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OPSEU: Secrecy at Homes First putting all at risk

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TORONTO – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says management at Homes First, which operates homeless shelters in Toronto, is putting clients, workers and the public at risk of COVID-19 by withholding crucial information about infections.

“It’s time for Homes First Executive Director Patricia Mueller to start putting people first,” said Thomas. “We all know from media reports that there are significant outbreaks in their shelters. Trying to hide information about all these infections isn’t going to make the infections go away. It just puts more people both in the shelter and in the community at significant risk.”

Media have reported that more than 100 residents and staff members at Homes First shelters have tested positive for COVID-19. But so far, the organization has reported nothing to its front-line workers about other possible infections or about plans to keep people safe.

“They’re legally obligated to share health and safety information with their workers and their workers’ union,” said Thomas. “We demand that they do the right thing and immediately start sharing this information before somebody gets sick or dies.”

Kareen Marshall, who is the chair of OPSEU’s Community Agencies sector and who works at Homes First, says that she and her fellow co-workers just want to help keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

“People suffering homelessness are more likely to be racialized or Indigenous, and are especially vulnerable during this pandemic. Our first priority is doing whatever we can to keep them safe,” said Marshall. “We’re right there on the frontlines. We have a lot of experience and expertise to offer, and we’re just asking our employer to respect the law and to communicate with us.”

The Ontario Health and Safety Act requires employers to disclose reports relevant to workplace health and safety to a health-and-safety committee made up of workers and managers. But so far, Homes First management has refused to share anything with the committee.

“Rogue employers like Homes First are making this pandemic worse than it needs to be – they should be ashamed,” said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “They should never be withholding health and safety information from their workers. It’s outrageous and reckless that they’re doing this in the midst of a pandemic.

“There is just no excuse. When lives are at risk, employers like Homes First need to come to the table. They need to come clean.”

For more information:
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931