Calgary

Self-isolation rooms for Calgary's homeless open in hotel

Four people are already using a facility set up for homeless Calgarians who need to self-isolate due to the pandemic. 

Facility provides private rooms for those who have nowhere else to go

One of the rooms that will be provided to homeless Calgarians who need to self-isolate due to COVID-19. (Calgary Homeless Foundation)

Four people are already using a facility set up for homeless Calgarians who need to self-isolate due to the pandemic. 

The hotel, co-ordinated by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, currently has 54 rooms ready for clients, but will have 100 rooms by the end of the week. 

Gail Boehm, the acting CEO of the foundation, said none of the people currently using the facility have tested positive for COVID-19 but are showing symptoms. 

"We're not aware of any confirmed cases with Calgary's homeless population at this time," she said. 

Clients can access the self-isolation site, complete with their own hotel room, if they've been screened by medical staff at either a shelter space or at a hospital and have been told to isolate. 

The organization is not revealing the location of the hotel. 

Retrofits to hotel 

Boehm said the hotel, which will be managed by HomeSpace Society and have medical programming from Alberta Health Services, CUPS and the Alexandra Community Health Centre, required work prior to welcoming clients.

"We had to do some retrofits and mainly for ease of medical access and client safety and facility safety," she said. 

"So we removed some of the appliances and utensils and put covers on sprinkler heads and smoke detectors and those sorts of things. It's really trying to remove any obstructions so that the medical personnel can have clear access for what they need."

Last week, Alberta's minister of social services, Rajan Sawhney, said housing the homeless in hotels rather than overflow shelters would be too time consuming because of the need to retrofit the spaces for suicide prevention. 

Boehm said that was part of the process, but was "not the primary reason for retrofits."

Could provide more space

She said she's not sure if the 100 rooms will be enough, but that more space could be opened up. 

"We were following the city and Alberta Health Services recommendations on [the number of rooms]. I think the solution is scalable and we'll work with our government and Alberta Health Services in the city to identify future sites and implement them as necessary," said Boehm.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said the issue of homelessness and COVID-19 is the most pressing public health issue of the day and publicly disagreed with the decision to house Calgarians in overflow shelters rather than hotels. 

The Calgary Drop-In Centre is housing up to 350 people at the Telus Convention Centre in order to open up space in its main shelter to allow for physical distancing.

The Mustard Seed has taken over the First Alliance Church as an overflow space, although some Mustard Seed clients have complained about a lack of space and having nowhere to go during the day. 

Alpha House, another shelter operator, quickly opened 40 hotel rooms to house some of its clients. 

Moving fast

Boehm said a large number of people and organizations had to move quickly to respond to the pressing issue of the pandemic and its impact on homeless Albertans, and that the foundation was co-ordinating based on the decisions of the city and Alberta Health Services. 

"Ultimately, putting people in homes is the best solution in the long-run, because it's very difficult to be healthy if you don't have a home," she said. 

"But the reality is this situation evolved rapidly and this is the best possible solution given where we are today."

Boehm said so many people have been working incredibly hard to get the self-isolation hotel up and running out of concern for the city's homeless. 

"When you think about all the risks that people have, and now this on top of everything else, it's just very sad," she said. 

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca. Signal contact upon request. CBC Secure Drop: www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

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