Positive COVID-19 case among Iqaluit men's shelter clients prompts concern

The executive director of the Uquutaq Society, which runs Iqaluit’s 30-bed men’s shelter, said a client of the shelter has tested positive for COVID-19, and she's not sure what will happen next.

People experiencing homelessness 'belong to the whole community,' says shelter director

Clients from the low barrier shelter in Iqaluit have been moved to the Frobisher Inn to isolate from the Aqsarniit Hotel. (David Gunn/CBC)

The executive director of the Uquutaq Society, which runs Iqaluit's 30-bed men's shelter, said a client of the shelter has tested positive for COVID-19. 

The positive test lead to more testing of staff and residents Thursday.

Laurel McCorriston, Uquutaq's executive director, is worried more people could test positive. She's hoping for a comprehensive plan to make sure everyone is safe and housed if that's the case.

"The homeless people in Iqaluit don't belong to Uquutaq, they belong to the whole community," she said. 

Laurel McCorriston, executive director of Uquutaq Society, said it was an easy decision to take on the low-barrier shelter. (Travis Burke/CBC)

McCorriston called communications between her society and the government on how to handle COVID-19 fragmented.

"There should be some sort of coordination between the parties who are serving the homeless in this community and that's not happening," said McCorriston. 

About a dozen clients from Iqaluit's low barrier shelter — a separate shelter that sleeps seventeen and accommodates people who are intoxicated — were moved from the Aqsarniit Hotel to the Frobisher Inn Friday, Nunavut's Department of Family Services confirmed.

Workers in the hall way of the Frobisher Inn where low barrier shelter clients are isolating. (Graham Shishkov/CBC)

Those who moved needed to isolate, either because they've tested positive for COVID-19 or they were identified as contacts of someone who has. 

The low barrier shelter was closed on May 2 after all staff were asked to isolate. Until now, the men's shelter services had remained the same. 

The Aqsarniit Hotel is being used by the government of Nunavut as an alternative isolation site for people who may not have a place to isolate or live in overcrowded housing. 

Volunteers, staff stepping in

A Family Services spokesperson said the clients from the low barrier shelter were moved from the Aqsarniit Hotel to the Frobisher Inn because they were identified as "high needs"— such as suffering from addictions or mental health issues. 

Those clients are now being assisted by staff from the government of Nunavut and volunteers. 

Family Services Minister, Elisapee Sheutiapik, said at a press conference Thursday that they're conducting online training for volunteers to help with isolation at the Frobisher Inn. 

The training started Thursday and will teach skills like crisis management and de-escalation. 

The Department of Family Services says they are stepping in to help with this isolation temporarily while the low barrier shelter remains closed. However, the department does not usually run shelter programs and is working with the Department of Health and mental health staff. 

McCorriston says the old men's shelter building at 778 is sitting empty and could be used to isolate shelter clients. But McCorriston says the Uquutaq Society wouldn't be able to run it because they are struggling to operate as is. 

"We are just coping day-by-day here," said McCorriston. 

CBC has requested comment from the Department of Health but has not received a reply.