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

Policies and Procedures Keeping Staff and Clients Safe

At Boyle Street Community Services, we have been working hard to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19 through forward-thinking and thoughtful protocols. Protecting staff and the clients we serve has been at the forefront of our decision-making since the onset of COVID-19. Ian Mathieson, Director of Operations and Co-Lead on our COVID-19 Response Committee, provided us with an in-depth look into Boyle Street’s COVID-19 response. 

A pandemic can take even the most forward-thinking organization by surprise; however, our organization’s response was ahead of the curve. 

“The key to the success of our initial response was that our Executive Director was already ahead of the curve,” explains Mathieson. “He created a COVID-19 Response Committee, led by Marliss Taylor and me, the week of March 11, 2020. That was the very beginning of the lockdown. Businesses and institutions began shutting down across North America. During this time, we had already begun developing a systematic response to the pandemic.” 

Fortunately, our organizational response was implemented early, as we considered COVID-19 a serious concern from the beginning. Marliss Taylor is the Director of Health Services for Boyle Street and the Co-Lead on our COVID-19 Response Committee. Her previous experience developing a pandemic response when H1N1 broke out in 2009 and stockpiling masks for staff use helped Boyle Street respond to the pandemic before many other organizations had even begun preparing.  

Pictured: Ian Mathieson (L) and Marliss Taylor (R).

“Because Boyle Street provides an essential service to the individuals we serve, we default to remain open, even during a crisis,” explains Mathieson. “We are risk-tolerant and have weathered quite a few storms in the past. COVID-19 is just another crisis, and we will weather this storm just like how we have weathered many others.” 

Boyle Street is doing all we can to keep clients and staff stay safe during the pandemic. As an essential service, Boyle Street knew that to provide effective services, the priority should be to create a safe environment for our clients and staff as soon as possible. 

“One of our biggest challenges that we have is reminding ourselves that we provide an essential service to the people we work with,” states Mathieson. “Just because we may be scared, anxious and stressed about the virus, and that there is a global outbreak, doesn’t mean we can close our doors.” 

Staying open is easier said than done. Many Boyle Street staff are frontline workers, and we are asking them to take on a certain level of risk in order to continue to provide essential services to the community we serve. We can mitigate risk as much as possible by giving our staff proper PPE, providing handwashing stations and temperature checks at the front door of our Community Centre and Four Directions Bank. Another way we mitigate risk is by asking clients to wear masks and answer thorough screening questions through our intake process right as they enter the building. These multiple measures help alleviate some of the risks that we are asking our staff to take.