Fred Victor: Supporting underserved populations during the vaccine rollout
Fred Victor has long been a leader in providing supports to individuals experiencing, at risk of, and those who have experienced homelessness in Toronto. With the cooperation of health partners, this ONPHA member is helping its clients and the local community get vaccinated against COVID-19. We spoke to CEO Keith Hambly about Fred Victor’s services and its role in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
About Fred Victor
Founded in 1894, Fred Victor is a multi-service organization that provides a wide range of services to social housing residents and those experiencing homelessness in Toronto. As a housing provider, Fred Victor provides affordable housing, shelter services, an emergency respite centre, and transitional housing for those with a history of homelessness, addiction, mental illness, or incarceration. Fred Victor also provides employment programs and services that help clients develop transferable skills that can lead to long-term employment.
Fred Victor is a core member of the Downtown East Toronto Ontario Health Team. They offer health services including mental health outreach and harm reduction programs (their safe consumption site was the first in Canada to be embedded in a community-based setting rather than a clinical one), as well as food security, health promotion, drop-in and community programs.
Keith tells us “as part of the [Downtown East Toronto] Ontario Health Team, and because of our role in the Downtown East area, we were heavily involved in community partnership with other organizations on responding to COVID”. Part of that response involved testing and ensuring marginalized communities received information and support related to COVID-19 prevention. This included advocating for public washrooms and providing food distribution services for people staying outside to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the effects of the accompanying lockdowns.
“Because we are also a shelter operator and have congregate housing”, Keith continues “we really pushed for testing early on in those settings because we knew those settings were areas where COVID could spread very quickly”. They also worked with the City of Toronto to implement testing clinics in their shelter programs.
Fred Victor worked with the City to open the Edward Hotel in North York which provides services tailored to individuals currently using shelter services while giving them the ability to social distance. The Edward Hotel is the largest program of its kind in Toronto at more than 230 rooms.
Working with fellow Downtown East Toronto Ontario Health Team members and longstanding community partners Unity Health and Regent Park Community Health Centre, Fred Victor established testing sites at their 40 Oak housing community in Regent Park.
Keith tells us they offered up their testing site at 40 Oak as a vaccine clinic when the vaccines were becoming more available. They worked with their partners establish the clinic, providing the space and the staff to manage the site. While Fred Victor does employ nurses at their safe consumption site, Unity Health and Regent Park CHC provide the clinical staff who administer the vaccines. This clinic is currently open residents who are 18 or older in local hotspot area codes.
Of their ongoing efforts to support vaccination efforts, Keith tells us “we’ve been heavily involved in working with our community and our community partners to encourage people to get the vaccine and open up various pop-up clinics” in the communities they serve.
“When approaching a pop-up vaccine clinic” Keith says, “Fred Victor staff promote the vaccine clinic, help folks get registered, make sure people have information on the vaccines, liaise with the logistics around setting up the clinic with community and other partners and promote and really provide that onsite support that you would need at a clinic”.
From April 23 to May 10, the clinic at the Regent Park location administered just under 3,000 vaccines and is still going strong.
Addressing vaccine confidence
In addition to promoting vaccine pop-ups and providing information, Fred Victor also works to address vaccine confidence in the broader community. Keith tells us “we need to ensure, support, and provide information [about the vaccines] in a variety of accessible ways to the communities we serve [including] different language postering, ensuring access to webinars that may be specific to various community groups, and supporting our clients when they start asking questions”. While acknowledging they’re not physicians, Keith says they can still “help promote and articulate the good science that’s out there”.
Keith elaborates: “particularly during a crisis like this, it’s vitally important for [housing] agencies to support their clients to gain access to information, to make sure they’re as informed as possible in making a decision about getting the vaccines. Obviously, we promote the vaccine as we believe it’s important for… one’s individual health, the health of their families, and the health of the community to receive the vaccine”.
“For an ONPHA member, our focus is on housing, but housing is health and this is one of the biggest health crises we’ve had in the past number of years. It does require good community development, good community work, and knowing the community you work with to inform them as well as possible and to connect them to the supports they need and the information they require”.
Fred Victor’s services have had to pivot during the pandemic. Where they would normally host a community-led restaurant, health restrictions have led them to providing meal distribution programs at two of their sites, which Keith tells us “have proven to be very popular but also very much needed”. He says that their food distribution volume has doubled or tripled during the pandemic.
When speaking about opportunities for service integration, Keith says “what’s interesting in our shelter program and in the sector itself, and I think it was there before COVID but it really accelerated during this last year, is the integration and the partnering and understanding between shelter services and clinical health services – embedded help that is on site”. Keith tells us that they have this type of integration set up at their hotel project, which offers an in-house safe consumption program available to residents.
Keith thinks the expansion of health services into the emergency shelter system is “a good thing” and “will be hopefully how we sustain [these services] going forward after the pandemic”.
The organization continues to advocate for some of Toronto’s most marginalized populations with its ‘You can’t stay-at-home without a home’ campaign, which brings attention to the unique challenges those experiencing homelessness have faced during the pandemic. Fred Victor has been pleased with the outpouring of support from the community, local businesses, and community partnerships in raising the funds needed to provide much-needed supports for their clients.
One of the biggest lessons they’ve learned over the past year, Keith says “is that the housing sector, the health sector, the community sector, and those of us who work in the community settings have such incredible nimbleness that we were able to pivot and meet as best we could, [to meet] a combination of our clients’ needs and staff needs on very short notice and with information changing constantly. I think this shows a variety of sectors that have the client at the centre and [are] thinking of how best to support our communities. As a housing operator I think that’s an important thing to convey to our partner organizations and ONPHA – that some congratulations are in order in terms of how the sector has pivoted to support communities during this crisis”.
Check out Fred Victor’s website to learn more about their mission, their services, and the communities they serve.
Don’t miss a post! Subscribe to get notified every time we publish a new story: