Kitchener-Waterloo

Homeless shelters urge donations, tell volunteers to stay home

Organizations working to serve the region's homeless and precariously housed are reorganizing services to stay up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Homeless often have underlying health conditions, making them at greater risk, experts say

A homeless man during extreme cold alert in winter in Toronto, Ontario. Organizations working to serve the region's homeless and precariously housed are reorganizing services to stay up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic.  (David Donnelly/CBC)

Organizations working to serve the region's homeless and precariously housed are reorganizing services to stay up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The majority of the population we serve have underlying medical conditions and that puts them at a higher risk especially with COVID-19," said Abla Tsolu, director of homelessness and housing services with YW Kitchener-Waterloo. 

YWKW has adopted several measures to try to stop potential spread. Those, Tsolu said, include staff self-screening and the screening of clients entering the shelters. They're also distributing hand sanitizer, have updated food handling procedures and added signage reminding clients to keep their hands washed.

She said, even with those efforts in place, maintaining the social distancing recommended by public health authorities is likely to be a challenge in shelters. 

"They lay on mats on the floor; it's a big shared space," she said. "We had to increase our capacity over this winter up to 60 clients. So it really makes this challenging." 

City libraries have temporarily shut down, and Lutherwood's resource centres have closed, with staff offering support to people over the phone, email and through face-to-face visits outside of the resource centres.

"The library is usually a place of refuge for most of our clients," said Tsolu. 

Volunteers asked to stay home

Other community shelters remain open as well, though with fewer volunteers and a heightened need for funds to help cover added costs. 

The Charles Street Men's Shelter, run by House of Friendship is continuing to operate, but they're asking volunteers not to come in, Gail Martin, marking and communicating specialist said.

The Bridges shelter in Cambridge is also open but discouraging visits from the general public to protect their clients, many of whom are elderly, according to a statement from Anne Tinker, the corporation's interim executive director. 

Donations accepted online

United Way Waterloo Region Communities has created a COVID-19 community response fund, which it is collecting on behalf of frontline organizations working in the community.

Organizations such as House of Friendship, YWKW, Lutherwood and Cambridge Shelter Corp are all accepting donations online as well, in order to avoid potential spread of the virus.  

In person donations are not being accepted, or are discouraged, by the organizations CBC News spoke with, until further notice. 

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