This study took place in two municipalities in the province of Nova Scotia (NS), Canada: Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM). The purpose of the research was to explore the following: how has the COVID-19 outbreak and related socioeconomic outcomes impacted the homeless community’s overall well-being and quality of life; what policies, services, and models have been successful/unsuccessful in supporting homeless populations during the pandemic; how could government and community service agencies learn from the homeless populations’ disaster-related challenges so that they could better support the homeless community’s post-disaster recovery initiatives.
Braun and Clarke’s (2013, 2019) most recent articulation of the six phases for data engagement provided the framework for reflective thematic analysis of this research. Using purposive sampling (posters), 26 service providers (front-line workers, funders, public health) and 28 individuals experiencing homelessness were interviewed. The recruitment of service stakeholders was through the COVID-19 Working Group Tables (Tables), intersectoral groups working to address homelessness during the pandemic in both HRM and CBRM. In-depth semi structured interviews lasted between 45-90 minutes; service stakeholders’ interviews were conducted by phone, interviews with those experiencing homelessness were conducted at two community-based sites. Interviews were analyzed using RTA and the thematic analysis involved identifying core themes and data patterns, and developing codes to help explain and interpret the themes in the context of our theoretical frameworks. The codes and themes were then reviewed by the five researchers involved in the study over three different meetings to ensure they accurately represented the study findings. The script for the animated short was developed based on the study themes.
Study findings are depicted in a graphic short that was developed to disseminate findings to a range of stakeholders and to make them accessible to people experiencing homelessness.
This study demonstrates how those experiencing homelessness were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic; they were isolated, forgotten, and experienced negative impacts on their physical and mental health. There were also several notable responses which were spearheaded by the two Tables, that were cited as the key factor in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and finding innovative solutions to the challenges that people experiencing homelessness were encountering. These included housing people in hotels, new harm reduction services and pop-up comfort centres. Despite the multi-sectoral collaborations, study findings also demonstrate the pandemic placed a heavy burden on non-profits to address the needs of those experiencing homelessness during the pandemic because of the limited government involvement and lack of collaboration. In this way, non-profits expressed frustration and fatigue, and pointed to the underlying causes of housing insecurity and poverty which they argued require significant attention and investment on the part of government.
Conclusion and Implications
People experiencing homelessness suffered unnecessarily during the pandemic. This study demonstrates the necessity for investment in affordable housing, harm reductions services and other basic supports and infrastructure to support those experiencing homelessness before disaster strikes.