The City of Toronto will soon require that masks be worn in the shelter system — a change in policy that comes just weeks after advocates took issue with the city's choice to leave homeless shelters out of a bylaw that mandated masks in indoor public spaces.
People living in shelters, along with staff and visitors will have to wear face coverings in indoor common areas of shelters, the city said in a news release Friday. The new policy will be in place by the end of September, the release said.
The requirement is not a part of the bylaw enacted in June that requires face masks to be worn within public indoor spaces, as homeless shelters are people's residences and not public areas, the city clarified.
Until the changes formally take effect, the city will encourage the use of masks in common spaces in the shelter system.
CBC News asked the city if it will be providing masks. In a statement, city officials said they will to try to acquire enough face coverings.
"The City will work with community partner providers to ensure they are able to procure required supplies of masks or face coverings and provide financial support as needed," they stated.
"The requirement for shelter clients to wear masks in the shelters' common areas is just one more measure that we can take to protect people experiencing homelessness that also helps to protect everyone in Toronto," said Mayor John Tory in a media release.
City staff will also work with front-line services to help people who use the shelter system to make the transition to mandatory masks, by providing education about using them safely, outlining when a mask needs to be replaced, and taking into consideration the needs ot residents who may experience difficulties using face coverings.
Advocates criticized decision to leave shelters out of bylaw
The decision to create the new mask policy for the shelter system follows consultations with partners in the homelessness services sector, the city said.
\In August, advocates told CBC News that physical distancing can be difficult to maintain within shelters, and called for mandatory masks to be a priority for the city in those spaces.
Toronto street nurse Cathy Crowe said the city needed to take on stronger leadership to keep those experiencing homelessness safe during the pandemic and include shelters in the bylaw mandating masks.
"Everything is procrastinated when it comes to them. They were the last to get mass testing ... And screening has not been effective. Encampments are not getting water or toilet facilities and now we have the issue of masks," she said.
Prior to Friday's announcement, the city previously told CBC News in August that masks were encouraged, but not required for residents of shelters.
There are currently no outbreaks in the shelter system. But in May, two people died after testing positive while staying in St. Simon's shelter. Eighteen others ended up infected and the shelter closed for two weeks as a result.