New units coming to help Winnipeg's homeless population self-isolate, slow coronavirus spread

The province of Manitoba says it is adding 140 more beds at shelters in the province to help those experiencing homelessness self-isolate while waiting for test results, or if they've already tested positive for COVID-19. 

Apartment building opens as quarantine space for homeless

Manitoba Housing and the COVID-19 response team for homeless people have retrofitted an entire apartment building to house homeless people in need of self-isolation. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The province of Manitoba says it is adding 142 more beds at shelters in the province to help those experiencing homelessness follow physical distancing protocols, in the hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

That includes 31 beds that will be available immediately in a vacant Manitoba Housing apartment located on Sargent Avenue, the province announced Friday.

The 31 beds will be available to those who need to self-isolate while waiting for test results, or if they've already tested positive for COVID-19.

The retrofitted building will be managed by Main Street Project, with funding coming from the province.

Rick Lees, the executive director of Main Street Project, says the pandemic has shown that carring for Winnipeg's most vulnerable will benefit the wider community as a whole.

"Personally, I think as a society, it's an obligation to look after vulnerable people. But if that's not how you think, you should do it because it's the right thing to do for everyone," Lees said. 

Main Street Project’s Rick Lees says the self-isolation centre will be shared among Winnipeg shelters, but managed by Main Street Project (Angela Johnston/CBC)

The facility will have 24-hour support for those who are self-isolating, including a team of nurses, physicians, withdrawal management support and staff. 

Lees says the location will be fully retrofitted by next week, but for now the Main Street Project is still looking for donations of furnishings for the new quarantine space.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said on Tuesday he was in discussion with all levels of government about the quarantine facility.

He said the isolation centre is one of city council's top priorities during the pandemic.

$1.2 million for more shelter beds

The Sargent Avenue facility is part of a $1.2-million commitment announced by the provincial government Friday to expand the number of beds in shelters.

Another 61 beds will be added to the Salvation Army, including 35 beds to their Martha Street location. Some Salvation Army residents will be moved from the agency's SonRise Village on Henry Avenue to an alternative location, freeing up 26 beds there for Winnipeg's homeless. 

The money will also provide Siloam Mission with the ability to add 50 more beds to its shelter.  

"While many of us have the capacity to shelter at home, the reality is some of us do not," the government stated in a press release this morning. 

"Through our Manitoba Protection Plan, our government will ensure people who don't have a stable home have a place to stay safe and healthy as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic together."

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Other isolation facilities in the works

Earlier this week, the provincial government put out a request for proposals from the hospitality industry for vacant spaces like hotels, inns, modular housing and motels, that can be used by people who require isolation.

Lanette Siragusa, the chief nursing officer for Shared Health, said on Wednesday that the hotels could be used by those who are homeless. 

End Homelessness Winnipeg also said that the hotels are being considered as isolation units for youth who are experiencing homelessness. 

Other spaces are being reviewed as possible isolation units, like the third floor of the Salvation Army's shelter, which is currently used as housing for families. 

Those families could be asked to move into hotels or other locations. 

As of Friday, there were 182 reported cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba.