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Apr 21
Homeless People Are at Greater Risk of COVID-19. Luckily, There’s a Good Shepherd
For decades, Good Shepherd Ministries has been helped vulnerable people living in east end Toronto. Brother David Lynch, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Ministries, discusses below how COVID-19 is affecting the homeless community and how his organization is responding. 

1. Can you describe how Good Shepherd Ministries got started and the work it does?

Founded in 1963, Good Shepherd Ministries serves individuals who struggle with homelessness and poverty. 

Good Shepherd Ministries provides the basic necessities of survival – food, shelter, clothing and medical care – to thousands of individuals in need each year. The ministry also provides more intensive services, which include: crisis and addictions counselling; housing services; veterans programming; and pastoral care. 

We are able to do this work thanks to the efforts of volunteers, donors, co-workers and the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God.  

2. How has COVID-19 affected the people you serve?

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the homeless population. The majority of homeless and at-risk individuals have serious underlying health conditions, making them at greater risk for serious illness if they contract the virus. 

In addition, due to social distancing requirements and the closure of services – including restaurants, drop-ins, parks and so on – homeless individuals have lost places of refuge. Services have dwindled and there are not enough shelter beds to accommodate individuals. More outdoor encampments are popping-up, as there aren’t enough shelter beds to accommodate homeless individuals. 

3. Can you describe how your ministry has changed during COVID-19?

As an essential service, Good Shepherd continues to serve the needy. We’ve had to modify our services to adhere to Public Health Canada guidelines. Group counselling and congregate meal services have been suspended. But we continue to provide overnight shelter to 95 men. And we offer a takeout bagged lunch, which is distributed between 2-4 p.m. each day, serving upwards of 700 people per day. 

Through the generosity of donors, we have a full time registered nurse on site who takes daily temperatures of co-workers and guests, and monitors the medical situation. We’ve also accelerated the cleaning of our facilities and put in place full infection control protocols. In addition, we’ve installed more hand sanitization units and educated our co-workers on COVID-19 detection, physical distancing, hand hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment.

4. Have you seen any signs of hope during these troubling times? 

While anxiety is at a high level because of the many unknown factors in this constantly changing situation, we have witnessed a high level of togetherness. People being willing to work together for a common goal. Individuals and organizations wanting to help by offering goods and services – donating food, making masks and asking to help in any way they can. This crisis is building a community that cares.

COVID-19 is also putting a spotlight on the plight of the homeless, how they tend to suffer and are at greater risk when a crisis hits our community. Currently, the city is scrambling to provide shelter spaces in order to implement social distancing and to find isolation units for the homeless. Most of us are blessed to have a home where we can isolate. But how can you stay home if you don’t have one? 

There is hope that as a result of this pandemic, businesses, individuals and all levels of government will work together to develop strategies to address homelessness. In particular, I hope there will be a serious focus on developing more supportive housing and addressing the need for more mental health and addiction support for this community. 

5. What can our readers do to help Good Shepherd Ministries?

This is a difficult time for all of us. We need support with our bagged lunch program. It takes half-a-day for our numerous co-workers to put together the lunches so we can feed people who are vulnerable. And we have lost a huge army of helpers as our volunteers isolate at home. Donations of food items, like deli meats, granola bars and juice boxes, would be very helpful. Some individuals and businesses have been making bagged lunches and donating them to ease the burden. 

We also require personal protective equipment to safeguard our guests and co-workers. 

Monetary contributions are also welcome and can be made by visiting GOODSHEPHERD.CA where you can also learn more about what we are doing during the pandemic and what is needed. 

Thank you for thinking of us during these anxious days.

ShareLife supports Good Shepherd Ministries and more than 30 other agencies that help the vulnerable in our community. Please consider donating to ShareLife.


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