City officials scrambling to add showers and laundry facilities at COVID-19 drop-in centre

The EXPO Centre has been converted into a drop-in centre and isolation shelter for vulnerable segments of the population. Some using the centre say there aren't enough showers to use.

In the next two weeks, 18 more shower units will be delivered to EXPO Centre

Beds in the isolation area at the EXPO Centre are spread out to follow social distancing rules. (Supplied by Ron Ramsay)

More showers and laundry facilities are needed at Edmonton's EXPO Centre, according to people using the centre for medical assistance and shelter.

Ron Ramsay arrived at the EXPO Centre last Monday after he showed symptoms of COVID-19. Upon arriving he was soon tested for COVID-19, but the results came back negative on Tuesday, as Ramsay instead found he had a bacterial infection.

Ramsay said he appreciates the medical help he received, but that it's been more than a week since he's been able to take a shower.

"There's just no showers for anybody. We've been told every day that we're going to get them, but it just hasn't happened," Ramsay said. 

Shower shortage

The City of Edmonton acknowledged the centre's amenities need to be improved as usage steadily increases. 

The EXPO Centre has been used as a day drop-in centre and isolation shelter since last week to meet the needs of Edmonton's vulnerable populations and ease pressures on social agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, 482 people used the day drop-in centre and 71 used the isolation area, city spokesperson Ashish Mohan said Wednesday.

The showers were temporarily unavailable on Tuesday because of a hot water problem, Mohan said. But shower and laundry services have otherwise been available in both the EXPO Centre's drop in and isolation areas.

Currently, there are four shower units available in the day drop-in centre and eight units in the isolation centre. There are six laundry units (washers and dryers) in the drop-in centre and the isolation centre, respectively.

In the next two weeks, the city says 18 more shower units are scheduled to be delivered and set up. The distribution of those showers between the drop-in and isolation sections will reflect the number of people using each side.

Ron Ramsay arrived at the EXPO Centre last week, but he says there aren't enough showers at the centre for people to use. (Supplied by Ron Ramsay )

Additional laundry services have also been ordered and should be delivered in the next two weeks, as well.

"They're doing the best that they can, I'm not trying to condemn anyone," Ramsay said.

'Logistical issues'

The day drop-in service, available for those without access to housing, is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m daily. It offers storage for belongings, food, showers, and cultural and peer support.

Meanwhile, the isolation shelter is open around the clock and available for those experiencing homelessness who may have been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms. The area allows them to recover while protecting others through self-isolation.

"There have been a myriad of operational and logistical issues to sort out," said Jackie Liu, director of operations at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre. Liu said the delay has come from getting additional portable showers assembled and working properly. 

"What we're trying to work with is to get folks to try and use them in a somewhat orderly fashion so that everyone can have access to those services."

Cash donations only

Another challenge social agencies face is getting help to those who don't necessarily want it.

A segment of the city's homeless population live outdoors in tents throughout the city, sometimes with multiple people sleeping together.

Normally, agencies like Boyle Street Community Services try to deter the practice by offering donated tents and sleeping bags. But because of COVID-19 health concerns, Boyle Street officials say they're no longer collecting material donations.

Instead they're asking for cash donations to purchase clothing and tents as needed.