Manitoba homeless shelters say they're in the dark about province's vaccination plan

With second doses given to people in personal care homes, the province says vaccinating the homeless and vulnerable is its next priority. But it has no specifics on how and when that will happen.

Province says vaccinating homeless and vulnerable Manitobans next priority, but no specific time frame

Adam Emes, who until recently was homeless, says he's anxious to get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, he says many homeless Winnipeggers may be reluctant to go somewhere like a vaccination supersite to get a shot. (Marianne Klowak/CBC)

Winnipegger Adam Emes is ready and anxious to roll up his sleeve to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Until recently, Emes, 45, had been living on the streets, spending the past five years sleeping in camps and bus shelters.

Some of those who are homeless in the city feel like they are "invincible," he says, because they are living outdoors. He used to think that way.

Not anymore, with a pandemic that has lingered stubbornly for a year now.

"I decided I should most likely get the shot. This thing is spreading like wildfire and it is only going to get worse with these new variants. It seems every time you blink there is another variant," said Emes.

During February's brutal cold snap, Emes sought shelter in a St. Boniface pop-up shelter at Holy Cross church. That's where he reconnected with Marion Willis at Morberg House, a transitional shelter where he'd spent time before.

Now he is living there, seeking help and support for his addiction.

But Emes and the rest of the men in recovery at Morberg don't know when or where they will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Morberg House founder Marion Willis, shown here in a 2018 file photo, says she's waiting to hear details from the province on how and when people living in congregate settings like shelters will be vaccinated. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The province has said with delivery of second doses at personal care homes completed, congregate settings like correctional facilities, homeless shelters and transitional housing facilities will be the next priority.

Morberg House founder Marion Willis says she is waiting to hear specific details from the province.

"We are being proactive while we wait to hear," she said.

"My outreach team is connecting with as many people as possible to let them know about the vaccine. We have done the paperwork to make sure if they require a health card to get it, they will have one."

So far, her team has registered 72 people with Manitoba Health, using Morberg House as their address.

Working on strategy: province

But according to a provincial spokesperson, a health card isn't needed to get the shot.

"There will be a process in place to address that situation," the province said in a statement Thursday, but no details on that process were provided.

"We are working on a strategy for homeless people and have conducted some extensive consults with agencies serving this population. At this point in time, we haven't launched that initiative," the statement said.

Willis wonders how, without requiring a health card, the province will be able to keep track of who has had a first or second vaccine dose and where they are living.

At 1JustCity's West End drop-in community centre on McGee Street, community facilitator Josh Ward is also anxious to hear specifics for how homeless Manitobans will be vaccinated.

"I haven't heard a thing about any plan. I would love to," Ward said. Maintaining physical distancing has reduced capacity at the overnight shelter and three daytime shelters 1JustCity operates, he said.

"So we certainly want to see our folks get vaccinated as soon as possible so more can come to us for support."

The non-profit is carrying out an information campaign about the vaccine, handing out brochures to community members and making sure they have the information to make an informed decision. 

2-dose vaccine a problem for homeless people

Both Willis and Ward say vaccines that require two doses for maximum efficiency are problematic, as are plans to now extend the period between doses by up to four months.

"I think for a lot of the folk we work with, the second appointment would be an issue. Trying to co-ordinate that would be a nightmare," said Ward. "Many don't know where they will be next week, never mind four months from now."

Willis agrees.

"Common sense tells me that the best vaccine for such a transient demographic would be a one-shot vaccine," she said.

On Friday, Health Canada announced the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which — unlike previously approved vaccines — requires only a single dose.

The province said in its Thursday statement it had no time frame yet for providing vaccines at shelters. Any homeless person who is eligible to receive the vaccine now can go to one of the vaccination supersites, the province said.

Both Willis and Ward want vaccines administered at their own facilities, where they have a relationship of trust with their clientele. Morberg has a nurse and an occupational therapist on site who would be able to administer the shot, Willis said. 

"I don't think our folks would go to a supersite," said Ward. "A person living on the street, they are concerned [with] where are they going to put their stuff when they go inside.… They carry their belongings with them." 

Emes agrees. He hopes vaccines will be available at Morberg. 

"[People living] on the riverbank are a little bit suspect and probably would not go to a supersite," he said. "It's not something they would do."

Province says vaccinating homeless and vulnerable next priority

CBC News Manitoba

3 months ago
Homeless shelters in Winnipeg say they are in the dark over when and where the city's most vulnerable will be vaccinated. The province says with second shots administered in personal care homes, shelters are its next priority. But shelters say they haven't been getting any details on when and how the rollout will take place. 2:11


Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.