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Advocates mourn 1st person to die of COVID-19 in Toronto’s shelter system

Advocates who mark the deaths of homeless people at a monthly ceremony in downtown Toronto held a moment of silence on Tuesday for the first person to die of COVID-19 in the city’s shelter system.

Dixon Hall, a non-profit, multi-service agency, identified the man as Joseph Chibala, 52. 

Chibala was born May 17, 1967 in the Republic of Congo. He was tested at St. Michael’s Hospital for COVID-19 on April 16. He was admitted to Etobicoke General Hospital on April 21, and died there on May 8.

The Toronto Homeless Memorial ceremony, held every second Tuesday of each month, was filmed outside the Church of the Holy Trinity. Viewers could watch it online.

Chibala stayed at Dixon Hall’s The School House, near Gerrard Street East and Jarvis Street, from November 2018 until the day he was tested in April 2020, Dixon Hall said.

The shelter had an outbreak in April, but according to the city, it was declared over on May 5.

Dixon Hall, which provides programs and services to Toronto’s most vulnerable residents, said Chibala spent many years in the city’s shelter system. He volunteered his time for Dixon Hall and supported other people in the community, the agency said.

“Staff who knew him remember him as a quiet man who was always very respectful to staff and other guests,” Dixon Hall said in a statement on Tuesday.

“He was meticulous about his appearance and referred to himself as a proud Torontonian.”

Joseph Chibala, 52, stayed at Dixon Hall’s The School House emergency shelter before he was admitted to hospital with COVID-19. He died in hospital. (Yanjun Li/CBC )

Chibala was known at the Regent Park Community Centre and Toronto Haven, Dixon Hall said.

“We will certainly miss his steady smile, his calm demeanour, and his gentle presence at our School House Shelter. We are proud to have served Joseph during his life, and we will strive to maintain our levels of care for the community Joseph left behind.”

279 people from shelters have COVID-19

The city said nine shelters now have COVID-19 outbreaks and 279 people are infected. Eleven people experiencing homelessness are in hospital.

On Tuesday, at a news conference at city hall, Mary-Anne Bedard, general manager of the city’s shelter, support and housing administration, said the city has moved 2,425 people from shelters and tents into housing.

“Almost all of the shelter system now has been able to achieve physical distancing,” Bedard added. “And we’re just in the process of sending out our quality assurance teams to to verify that that has in fact been achieved and I think within the next few days we’ll be in a position to feel confident about that.”

The Toronto Homeless Memorial also held a moment of silence for Adam Robinson, 36, who died in a fire in an encampment under the Glen Road bridge, near Bloor Street East and Mount Pleasant Road, on May 1.

Homeless advocates want the city to do more to prevent other deaths of people experiencing homelessness.

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