Isolation center for homeless people with COVID-19 nearly full as Omicron moves through shelters

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As 34 homeless shelters grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks, one isolation center for homeless people infected with the virus is 95% full, meaning the facility will only accept complex cases.

City officials have asked shelter staff to develop plans that will allow homeless people infected with the virus to isolate “in situ,” which means staying in place in the shelters they are staying in.

Homeless advocates say people trying to access a bed at the isolation and recovery center are out of luck and urge city to seek outside help, including from the federal government , to manage the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in shelters.

They say the city needs to create space in the isolation center. And they say they believe the shelter system could collapse due to worker burnout, staff shortages and the recent death toll in the shelter system.

A senior city official, however, rejected the idea of ​​outside help, saying the city is handling the situation. He added that the shelter system is working.

“We don’t need any help right now,” Gord Tanner, general manager of the city’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration, told CBC. The National.

“Listen, these are tough times for all of us in communities across Canada. And certainly the impact for vulnerable people, including the homeless, has been significant. But we are ready and we have contingency plans in place, as I say, to deploy staff when needed, to all of the city departments in Toronto, to ensure the continuity of these essential services. “

Tanner said the city operates the largest shelter system in Canada, providing shelter to about 7,200 people per night in 101 shelters.

“People are working around the clock to make sure homeless people in Toronto have the support they need and a safe, warm place inside,” he said.

The Maxwell Meighen Center, a downtown Toronto shelter funded by the City of Toronto and operated by the Salvation Army, is pictured here on February 23, 2021. The shelter is one of 34 currently in outbreak in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

As for the isolation center itself, Tanner said, “Our isolation and recovery site here is a place where people with COVID-positive can go and receive support from some improved health services. And that is. a very busy place as you can imagine right now with the Omicron variant. People come in and out of this program daily, so there’s a constant churn rate. ”

Although Tanner dismissed the need for outside help, he acknowledged that “the ability to keep a space of isolation for the number of people who may be affected by this variant is very difficult.”

The isolation center has 60 rooms for homeless people

According to city ​​data, the city’s isolation center is at 95% of its capacity. The city said there were around 60 rooms in the center for homeless people who tested positive for COVID-19.

Currently, however, the city says the center can only accept complex cases, including people with “greater vulnerabilities” and harm reduction needs.

Tanner said the city was doing everything in its power to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in its shelter system: “We are in daily contact with all of our shelter operators and make sure they have the support which they need in terms of personal safety. protective equipment and supports around infection prevention and control. “

Tanner said the city is working closely with Toronto public health and community health organizations as it tries to reduce the number of cases.

Starting Friday at 8:30 a.m., pandemic data dashboard shows that there are 34 outbreaks in emergency shelters, with 214 cases and one person hospitalized. Seaton House, the city’s largest men’s shelter, is suffering its seventh outbreak, according to data collected by advocates.

Lack of isolation space is “alarming”, says street nurse

Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, said the lack of available space at the isolation center is “alarming”. The network includes homeless advocates, shelter providers, health professionals, legal workers, religious leaders and researchers, all of whom focus on homelessness.

“Now, basically, unless you’re seriously ill, you don’t go into that recovery hotel,” Crowe said.

“The shelters were run by the city to keep you in place. If you have COVID right now, it doesn’t matter. You are stuck in the shelter and somehow they try to create a space to isolate yourself in, which is totally impossible unless you are in a shelter that has individual rooms and which is extremely rare.

“It’s really, really alarming, given what we know about the spread. People who are not infected are left sitting like ducks.”

Crowe said the situation means homeless people with COVID-19 must feel extremely uncomfortable as they try to recover.

“Imagine if you are homeless and you have COVID-19 and you are stuck in a shelter. You could sleep on a cot. And it’s not like you have a family member there to looking after you, someone to make you chamomile tea, or to get you extra juice, or to cook you scrambled eggs when you regain your appetite. the chain. And there’s no medicine cabinet. It’s a very rare refuge that has nurses on site. It’s a nightmare, “she said.

Street nurse Cathy Crowe said, “Now, unless you’re seriously ill, you’re not going into this recovery hotel.” (SRC)

Greg Cook, an outreach worker at Sanctuary Ministries in Toronto, said the city was not prepared for the onslaught of cases generated by the Omicron variant. Sanctuary is an organization that works with poor and homeless people to provide them with support in their reintegration into the community.

“I would say the city was slow to respond and foresaw the best of times,” Cook said. “I think the main point is that the city needs to ask for federal help.”

Cook said the city was reserving space in the isolation center for the most serious cases and the result was: “People have no options.”

In a statement released over the weekend, the city admitted that the center was almost full: “There is a high demand for the program, but places are becoming available daily as people come out. People who test positive in a collective (non-hotel) shelter will continue to be given priority for admission for isolation. “

The city said the isolation center could originally accommodate up to 154 people, but the city reduced the amount of space designated for isolation and recovery and started using the floors of the hotel to include shelter space for homeless people.

Homeless shelters feel pressure from COVID-19 amid Omicron outbreaks

Homeless shelters across Canada are feeling the pressure of COVID-19 as outbreaks of the Omicron variant highlight growing concerns about the safety of residents. 2:01

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