As homelessness in Canada worsens, it is essential to ask what kind of impact an influenza pandemic might have on the homeless population and urban communities across the country. Estimates suggest that at least 200,000 individuals use homeless shelters annually across Canada (Gaetz, Donaldson, Richter, & Gulliver, 2013; Gaetz, Gulliver, & Richter, 2014). Canada’s homelessness response system has historically been focused on emergency response, much of which is characterized by dangerously overcrowded sleeping conditions, poor air quality and residents being forced onto the streets during daylight hours. Homeless people typically suffer from poor health, nutritional vulnerability, compromised immune systems and barriers to accessing health services (Frankish et al., 2005). In the event of a pandemic, it is not clear whether the infrastructures to address homelessness, Public Health departments, or the health care system in general, will be prepared to adequately respond to the risks faced by the homeless population.
The purpose of the research described in this chapter was to better understand the ways in which the current emergency response to homelessness in cities across Canada would affect the vulnerability of this population in the event of an influenza pandemic. A majority of research has focused on experiences in larger urban centres and communities in dense networks of urban centres (e.g., the dense network of urban regions in southern Ontario). The case study presented in this chapter focuses on homelessness and pandemic preparedness in a small and relatively isolated city, specifically, Regina, Saskatchewan. The goal of this research was to identify the experiences and challenges of pandemic planning in the context of homelessness in smaller and more isolated urban areas, as well as suggestions for improved responses in the case of future pandemics.