COVID-19 pandemic puts homeless Calgarians at special risk, report says

A report published Tuesday says Calgary's homeless and other vulnerable populations are particularly at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U of C study says poverty weakens an individual’s ability to cope with new problems

The University of Calgary's School of Public Policy published a report this week asking the community to think of vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CBC)

A report published Tuesday says Calgary's homeless and other vulnerable populations are particularly at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ronald Kneebone, a researcher at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, says most people will be fine in this situation, but those who depend on social service agencies — and those agencies themselves — are struggling.

"So we've been told to distance ourselves from one another. We've been told to stock up on food and other supplies. And when you think about someone living in a homeless shelter, for example, they're unable to do either of those things," he said.

The report, Vulnerable Populations and the COVID-19 Pandemic, which Kneebone co-authored, says poverty weakens an individual's ability to cope with new problems piled on top of those already being dealt with.

"The impact of a pandemic on this population adds to already high levels of stress and in so doing compounds existing health conditions," the report says.

Kneebone says it's also important to stress that in previous pandemics, caring for those in particular need helped speed up the recovery process.

"I think we learned a little bit from previous pandemics that special attention has to be made to vulnerable populations," he said.

"I think as we recover from this current situation, we should be carefully thinking about having plans in place that are ready to go without having to scramble."
While he says this is not a critique of the ongoing government response, specific government supports for at-risk populations are needed.

"These responses need to recognize that the lack of access to financial resources, supportive care and a weak personal social safety net all contribute to a greater exposure to the health consequences of pandemics," the report says.
Right now, it's hard for agencies to continue serving people who may be disabled, low income and homeless because when everyone is hurting, donations and fundraisers aren't top of mind, Kneebone notes.


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