Angela Robertson & Her Team
Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre

the story

First, you’re homeless, pretty much broke, and living in a shelter. Then you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 and told to quarantine yourself for two weeks. And then, you need to leave the shelter or find a place where you can isolate and supported. Now what? 

That’s the crazy Catch-22 facing homeless shelter residents. What would be an unpleasant and inconvenient situation for most of us, becomes a catastrophe.

At the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre (PQWCHC), Executive Director Angela Robertson knew that things needed to change. She supported and led strategies for a plan to provide support for COVID-19 positive individuals who would be moved out of the shelters. Using her innovative drive for change and credibility as the Director of one of the biggest CHCs in the province, Angela was a leader with four other partners in mobilizing individuals and agencies to establish a COVID-19 recovery site in Etobicoke in April 2020. People recovering from COVID-19 now have access to a dignified and safe space for healing as well as harm reduction services including an overdose prevention site. Thanks to Angela’s persistent efforts, the hotel provides integrated health, harm reduction and social care in a safe and supportive environment for people to recover from COVID-19 until they are able to return to a shelter or better yet, housing.

As Toronto becomes less hospitable to the poor, community health centres such as PQWCHC become increasingly important in advocating for the needs of community members. As stated in their most recent annual report, “[PQWCHC] continue[s] to provide innovative health promotion and wellness supports to seniors and newcomers in our communities to break social isolation, to challenge elder abuse, and to protect their housing threatened by gentrification.”

Under Angela’s guidance, the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre has long served as a community centre for those who are homelessness/unsheltered. Some, finding some measure of safety, often sleep in front of the building under the overhang, or seek shelter in the parkette beside the building. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people do not feel safe in shelters and the encampments  life isare seeing a surge as the only feasible alternative. So Angela’s work continues. Her next move is to find opportunities to create rent-geared to income housing on PQWCHC owned properties for those who literally sleep on its doorsteps. Angela’s inspiring efforts serve as a lesson; that poverty and homelessness are not inevitable but are signs of structural inequalities and an unwell society, and that caring for the needs of the most vulnerable is absolutely in the spirit of public health and human rights.