Posted by: Mr Bed Bug in Toronto Bed Bugs on January 22nd, 2020

In the International Year of the Nurse and MidwifeI have to ask once again 'What would Florence Nightingale say about this new coronavirus?'

In 2003, street nurse Kathy Hardill and I penned an article asking a similar question on another coronavirus, 'What would Florence say about SARS?'

"Imagine for example, that you are homeless. If you are staying in a homeless shelter with one or two toilets and sinks for sixty people, which may or may not have soap or towels, you will not be able to wash your hands very often. If you are living in a crowded basement shelter with no windows, air circulation will be next to non-existent. You will likely sleep less than a metre from your neighbour. There may be anywhere between 20-100 people sleeping in the same room. Nearly everyone has a cough --close to 40 per centhave already been exposed to tuberculosis. Several days from now you may be forced to seek new shelter. In the morning you will likely enter a nearby drop-in centre to obtain food, or to see a nurse, or to use a phone or washroom. If you should require quarantine, where would you go?"

We pointed out that Nightingale said, "Bad sanitary, bad architectural, and bad administrative arrangements often make it impossible to nurse."

Seventeen years after SARS, Nightingale'swords hold true. For years, this blog has chronicled the local Toronto and national emergency of homelessness that impacts health and life: overcrowded shelters, new 24-hourrespite sites, warming centres and a city shelter and public health administration that ignore both the evidence and frontline health workers'expertise.

In 2003 I was invited to give evidence, surprisingly in private, at the SARS Inquiry, held by Justice Archie Campbell. Here are some excerpts to provide food for thought as the world watches the spread of a new coronavirus.

Ironically, it was evident that strategic alliances to fight SARS were acknowledged in the area of tourism and business rather than in the field of community and population health.

It is with regret and alarm that I suggest to you that homeless individuals, and ultimately the population at large, remain at great risk should a similar health catastrophe resurface."

Today, I watch in horroras shelters remain at 100 per centcapacity and overflow shelters called 'respitesites' and Out of the Cold programs operate with weaker standards that put homeless people, volunteers and workers at risk.

Another reason we plead for Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford to declare a homelessness emergency. The sector needs a massive infusion of funds to realize the right to safe shelter.

Sign the Shelter and Housing Justice Network petition here (anyone can sign).

Cathy Crowe is a street nurse, author and filmmaker who works nationally and locally on health and social justice issues. Her work has included taking the pulse of health issues affecting homeless people including shelter conditions and inadequate housing, the return of tuberculosis and bedbugs, discrimination and a high mortality rate. She has fostered numerous coalitions and advocacy initiatives that have achieved significant public policy victories.

Photo by Cathy Crowe

What would Florence Nightingale say about this new coronavirus? -

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