Vulnerable Populations in the COVID-19 Response

On March 16, 2020, I raised concerns about COVID-19 Pandemic Measures for vulnerable populations in an open letter, jointly with Vancouver-Kingsway MP Don Davies, to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, and all members of the Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19):


Open Letter re: COVID-19 Pandemic Measures For Vulnerable Populations


Deputy Prime Minister Freeland,


We are hearing very urgent concerns from constituents about taking immediate action to protect vulnerable people in our communities.  We are especially concerned, now that we have confirmed that community transmission is occurring, about those in East Vancouver who would fall into high-risk categories for serious impact as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of health as well as in terms of the social indicators of health.


Front-line workers in health care, housing, outreach and harm reduction are sounding alarms because many of the public health advisements regarding “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 outbreaks, including social distancing, self-isolation, and aggressive hygiene practices are simply not available choices to the hundreds if not thousands of people in our constituencies who are homeless, who are staying in shelters, who are “couch-surfing”, and constituents who live in very inadequate housing. For these constituents, advice about social distancing and maintaining a distance of at least two meters from other people is simply impractical. Likewise, the advice to conduct frequent hand-washing with soap and warm water is not practical, especially if you are homeless and do not have predictable access to a washroom or clean running water.


For constituents living in the Downtown Eastside in Single Room Occupancy buildings (SROs), while they may have some access to a washroom, that washroom may be shared with numerous other residents living on their floor and so the advice about hygiene practices may likewise be difficult to follow correctly.


We are also hearing that front-line workers in harm reduction facilities and supervised consumption sites are very concerned about how they will be supported in their continued work while checking the spread of COVID-19. The opioid crisis has not ended. Those with active addictions, many of whom also live with chronic illness, disabilities, or concurrent disorders are especially vulnerable. And while this pandemic is clearly a national health priority, the previous BC provincial health officer, declared the opioid crisis as an emergency in 2016; and, Dr. Bonnie Henry, in continuing that work, has also called for more and bolder actions to continue improving the situation and taking concrete steps to the opioid crisis. As we are in the middle of a housing and overdose crisis, harm reduction facilities and supervised consumption sites are essential life lines for people and will remain critical.


Finally, we must add that our constituents are not just worried about their health but also worried how they will keep a roof over their head and food on the tables if their work is temporarily closed. Many constituents who rely on part-time work, precarious work, or who juggle multiple jobs will face impossible choices if they are called off from work or if they are asked to stay home. They are the 60% of all workers who do not currently qualify for Employment Insurance. We are hearing from constituents who therefore ask that the federal government provide emergency funding to make EI, or equivalent programs, accessible for all workers, not just the 40% or workers it now serves, including the 10% who are independent contractors and the 12% who have temporary jobs, and that income replacement be increased from 55% to 90% for low wage employees.


We would also add that there are many seniors, families, and people with disabilities in East Vancouver who, while housed, live in poverty and rely on community facilities such as schools, community centres, hot meal programs, food banks, and other community programming and distribution points in order to meet their basic daily food requirements. For these individuals, regular visits outside of the home may be absolutely essential to feed themselves and their families. For these individuals, especially those who live on a fixed income, “stocking up” on supplies ​to meet their needs in the event self-isolation may be required is simply not an available option because they do not have the resources to make such a purchase. And avoiding public transit is likewise not an available choice.


With regard to housing, where many of our constituents who are housed are facing precarity if they suffer any loss of income or interruption in employment that would jeopardize their ability to pay rent, there are also calls for a moratorium on all evictions until the World Health Organization declares the COVID 19 pandemic has ended; a temporary rent freeze period for renters; and a temporary rent-free period for any renter suffering with the virus or self-isolating for the period of their self-isolation and recovery.  With regard to measures that the federal government could decisively take, some constituents are suggesting that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation should immediately provide a pool of capital to existing or new rent banks across the country so that those who can’t make the rent because of falling incomes or illness don’t lose their housing; and, that the federal government mandate that banks and major lenders extend the mortgage default period and/or defer mortgage payments over the next six months, as Italy has done.


In this unprecedented time people in our community want to know that their government is doing everything in its power to protect people whose health is vulnerable, and to ensure that the social determinants of health are not further eroded for those who are already economically insecure.


We thank you in advance for your attention to these concerns and will look forward to your response,




Jenny Kwan                                              Don Davies

MP, Vancouver East                                      MP, Vancouver Kingsway




Cc:      The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos (Vice-Chair)

The Hon. Navdeep Singh Bains

The Hon. William Sterling Blair

The Hon. Patricia Hajdu

The Hon. Mélanie Joly

The Hon. William Francis Morneau

The Hon. Carla Qualtrough

The Hon. Kirsty Duncan

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