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Poverty, Homelessness and COVID-19: Boyle Street Community Services' Response to the Global Pandemic

Health and Safety Precautions

Ever since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, Boyle Street Community Services has been providing care and prioritizing the health and safety of community members and staff. Marliss Taylor is a Registered Nurse and the Director of Health Services for Boyle Street and Co-Lead on our COVID-19 Response Committee. She also runs the Streetworks program. Taylor provided insight into how we have and continue to work hard to keep Edmonton’s most vulnerable as safe as possible during this outbreak of novel coronavirus.  

As an essential service, Boyle Street Community Services kept our doors open when the pandemic hit. Boyle Street was set up for success in one regard: we had a stockpile of 6,000 masks, ready for staff to use in the Community Centre at the onset of the virus. These supplies were originally purchased for what could have been a catastrophic global pandemic when H1N1 broke out in 2009. They were stored in a staff’s barn on a farm for a decade! Our staff were able to put the masks to good use once COVID-19 precautions recommended their usage. Since then, all 6,000 masks have been used while staff continued to provide our 40+ programs and services across our nine locations.

Since the initial declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, Boyle Street has been working hard on many fronts to keep staff and community members safe. Marliss Taylor explains how our organization is approaching this. 

“We are staying in tune with what the Chief Medical Officer is saying, are working with other health providers like the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, and we are following the recommendations of our health inspector,” explains Taylor. “Most importantly, we are communicating the science. During times of stress, there can be a lot of misinformation that goes around, but we communicate the science to our community members and staff to help ease confusion.” 

Unfortunately, putting that science into practice continues to be a challenge our community members are facing.

“We can say a million times to people 'wash your hands,' but when you’re outside all day and don’t have access to soap and water, that advice just isn’t realistic,” explains Taylor.  

Asking clients to wear a mask safely is also challenging. It’s difficult for community members to keep a reusable mask clean while living rough because of limited access to laundry facilities. If community members are able to obtain a disposable mask, it’s only a temporary, short-term solution, as it may be a while before a community member can locate another clean, disposable mask.