The effects of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the lives of underserved populations are underexplored. This study aimed to identify the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health responses on the health and social well-being, and food security of users of Housing First (HF) services in Toronto (Canada) during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This qualitative descriptive study was conducted from July to October 2020 in a subsample of 20 adults with a history of homelessness and serious mental disorders who were receiving HF services in Toronto. A semi-structured interview guide was used to collect narrative data regarding health and social well-being, food security and access to health, social and preventive services. A thematic analysis framework guided analyses and interpretation of the data. The COVID-19 pandemic and response measures had a variable impact on the health, social well-being and food security of participants. Around 40% of participants were minimally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conversely, among the remaining participants (impacted group), some experienced onset of new mental health problems (anxiety, stress, paranoia) or exacerbation of pre-existing mental disorders (depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder). They also struggled with isolation and loneliness and had limited leisure activities and access to food goods. The pandemic also contributed to disparities in accessing and receiving healthcare services and treatment continuity for non-COVID-19 health issues for the negatively impacted participants. Overall, most participants were able to adhere to COVID-19 public health measures and get reliable information on COVID-19 preventive measures facilitated by having access to the phone, internet and media devices and services. In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated response measures impacted the health, social well-being, leisure and food security of people with experiences of homelessness and mental disorders who use supportive social and housing services in diverse ways.
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; food security; health; homelessness; response measures; social support.
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