Spread Compassion – Stop Diseases

Responding to Homeless People’s Urgent Needs During the Pandemic.

People experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing, and the organizations that serve them, face special challenges from contagious diseases such as COVID-19. Everybody benefits if we can reduce infection disease risks to homeless residents. This column describes ways to reduce these risks, in the short term by improving homelessness services and emergency housing facilities, and over the long term by eliminating homelessness. 

The Problem

According to the Point in Time Homelessness Survey, on a typical night about 1,500 people in the CRD are homeless, and many lower-income households live in unhealthy, crowded or insecure housing.

People experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing, and the organizations that serve them, face special challenges from contagious diseases such as COVID-19. Homeless people tend to be vulnerable to infections due to a combination daily stress, poor nutrition and chronic diseases. They often lack resources for basic hygiene such as sinks, clean toilets, and opportunities to bath and clean clothes. They are often in crowded conditions. In addition, many homelessness services volunteers are vulnerable to diseases due to health conditions or age, and so cannot help during infectious disease outbreaks.

Many organizations are reducing their services. Our Place is closing down its drop-in space, computer lab, courtyard, hygiene, and clothing area. Cool Aid is closing its dental clinic and community centre. This reduces risks to clients, staff and volunteers, but leaves critical gaps.

Public health officials advise people exposed to or infected by contagious diseases to stay home and minimize contact with other people. Quarantines are difficult enough for people with stable homes and reliable incomes; they are virtually impossible for people who are homeless or living in crowded or unhealthy homes. If they do become infected, they will need to stay in hospitals, using scarce beds, adding stresses and costs to overburdened public health services.

Everybody benefits if we can reduce infection disease risks to homeless residents.

What Is Currently Being Done in This Region

Homeless service providers are acting to reduce infection risks, including more frequent cleaning of their facilities and equipment, and providing information and support to their clients. The City of Victoria is working to develop emergency housing and healthcare for the unhoused through the retrofitting of underutilized facilities to allow for social distancing, proper care, harm reduction and recovery.

Other communities are implementing specific actions. The Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission is installing sinks at homeless shelter entrances. It is also creating quarantine areas to care for potentially infected clients who don’t require hospitalization. King County, WA bought a former 85-bed motel to provide quarantine housing for homeless people.

What More is Needed

Homelessness service providers need more funding to maintain their services and purchase additional resources required to respond to this crisis. Below are some specific ways to help.

Recommended Actions

  • Donate money to organizations that provide services to homelessness people and families in need (see options below).
  • If you are low risk (healthy and relatively young), volunteer to help homeless service providers.
  • Join a community care network that helps people who require assistance, such as shopping for isolated seniors (e.g., COVID-19 Coming Together).
  • Help end homelessness by supporting policies that will create more affordable housing in our community, as described in our Affordable and Inclusive Neighborhood Development Plan.


Local Homelessness Services Organizations

OrganizationContact InformationNeeds
Our Place Society – Comprehensive homeless services919 Pandora Avenue

Phone: 250-388-7112


Tents, sleeping bags and tarps, plus financial donations.
Cool Aid Society and Sandy Merriman Women’s Shelter –emergency and support housing, health care and other servicesPhone: 250-383-1977


Funding to support services
United Way – funds various programs and services that help people in need250-385-6708

Funding to support services
Times Colonist/Victoria Foundation Rapid Relief Fund – supports various community organizations
Burnside Gorge Community Centre – various community and family services.471 Cecelia Road

Phone: 250.388.5251


Funding for meals, camps and other family services
Mustard Seed – provides meals and other support services625 Queens Ave


Funding for meals and other services
Anawim House – provides transition housing and other services.973 Caledonia Ave


Funding to support services
Salvation Army ARC – various services.525 Johnson St


Funding to support services
The Soup Kitchen – mealsSt Andrew’s, 740 View St


Funding to support meals
Dandelion Society – direct support for homeless people1027 Pandora Ave.
Phone: 778.440.1471

Tents, sleeping bags and tarps, plus financial donations


For More Information

Katie Canales (2020), “San Francisco will temporarily house members of its homeless population who are infected with the coronavirus in RVs for self-quarantines,” Business Insider.

CDC (2020), Interim Guidance for Homeless Shelters, Center for Disease Control.

City of Victoria (2020), City of Victoria Response to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Coming Together (Victoria/Lekwungen and W̱Sáneć Lands) Facebook Page.

CfE (2019), Our Affordable and Inclusive Neighborhood Plan, Cities for Everyone (

Thomas Fuller (2020), “Coronavirus Outbreak Has America’s Homeless at Risk of ‘Disaster’” New York Times.

Cindy E. Harnett (2020), “For Homeless People, Daily Survival is the Top Priority,” Times Colonist.

Homelessness Hub (2020), Infectious Diseases.

Jen Monnier (2020), “Coronavirus Poses Unique Threat to U.S. Homeless Population,” Scientific American.

NAEH (2020), Coronavirus and Homelessness, National Alliance to End Homelessness.

NCEH (2020), What Homeless Folks Should Know about Coronavirus (Covid-19), National Coalition for the Homeless.

NHCHC (2020), Coronavirus Resources, National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

Chris Woodyard (2020), “Why the Homeless, ‘Surviving the Best Way They Can,’ are Vulnerable to Coronavirus,” USA Today.

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