Posted by: Mr Bed Bug in Toronto Bed Bugs on March 19th, 2020

On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely am I to get coronavirus? Probably about a 9: What its like to live in a Toronto homeless shelter right now

Ive been on the street for a little over a year, and Im currently living in a shelter in a church basement. It was originally supposed to hold around 30 people, and now 62 people are staying there. Let me put it this way: if the health department came, they would shut it down. We have cockroaches crawling on the tables in our eating area. Bedbugs, too, but thats inevitable. I measured the space between the beds, and its a little over three feet. I can basically scratch my neighbours nose. That doesnt feel like enough distance when coronavirus is transmitted through droplets. We have one hand sanitizer dispenser in the entire place. Cleanliness is also a problem, because lots of people here have less-than-ideal hygiene practices. If you bring it up, theyre like, Dont tell me what to do. Off the top of my head, I cant think of any solution other than to burn the place down and start over.

The director of the shelter gave us a bit of a speech the other day. He said, Well do the best we can to keep you safe, and everything is going to go on per usual. Well, that doesnt really address anything, does it? I cant self-isolate. Im not even allowed to stay in the shelter: they wake us up at 6 a.m. and kick us out for the rest of the day. All it would take is one more shift, two more shelter staff, to let us stay inside for the day. Thats what happened at Christmas. There were two extra people working during the day. The world didnt come to an end. John Tory, Doug Ford, Justin Trudeau, theyre all self-isolating. What about us? Im a Vietnam vet, and it takes a lot to scare me. This scares me.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely am I to get coronavirus? Probably about a 9. Im 68. Ive had a lot of medical problems in the past year, like deep-vein thrombosis, and Ive been told to stay in bed, to get as much rest as I can. Its not an option. There arent that many places to go right now. I usually spend time at the library, but those are closed. The recreation centres are closed, too. Even the dining room of McDonalds is closed. My friend went to McDonalds this morning and tried to pay in cash, and they told him they just wanted cards. And if I want to talk to my doctor, the only way is through the phone. Right now Im not living, Im existing. And with this virus, I dont know how much longer I can exist.

Theres a group of us in the shelter who try to help each other, given the limited resources we have. If somebodys got a headache or a stomachache, then somebody might give them some Tylenol or Tums. My friend Malcolm has been amazing. Hes given me money and has been there for me when no one else was. We call each other brothers. If it wasnt for him I probably would have shot myself by now. Hes saved my life.

I dont feel like the shelter staff listen to me when I express concern about coronavirus. They see me as a troublemaker. Whenever something happens, Im the person residents come to. They know Im not afraid to go talk to staff and bring up whatever the problem is.

Several people have told me that theyre concerned about coronavirus, and that the homeless people are going to be blamed for its spread. Its not impossible, because people always look for somebody to blame. Thats human nature. And who do you blame? The weakest and most vulnerable people. The only way to solve this would be to give hotel rooms to the homeless. Thats the only way well be able to self-quarantine.

Im well-educated. Im not usually at a loss for words, but I dont have the words for this mess were in. I think it was Diogenes who said that a society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable people, and so far were failing.

As told to Isabel B. Slone

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On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely am I to get coronavirus? Probably about a 9: What it's like to live in a Toronto homeless shelter right now -...

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