Isolation shelter set to help protect Ottawa's homeless population from COVID-19

The shelter will open in Ottawa’s Lowertown neighbourhood on Monday.

Shelter will open in Lowertown neighbourhood

The Routhier Community Centre has been transformed to handle up to 40 people. (Boris Proulx/Radio-Canada)

A new isolation shelter to protect Ottawa's homeless population from COVID-19 is ready to go.

The centre is set to open Monday at the Routhier Community Centre on Guigues Avenue in Lowertown, on an interim basis, as the number of cases of the respiratory illness continues to grow across the province.

As of Saturday afternoon, Ontario had recorded more than 370 cases of COVID-19 and Ottawa had 20 cases.

There has not been a positive case among the city's homeless population, according to Ottawa Inner City Health (OICH). The organization works to provide healthcare for Ottawa's vulnerable populations, and has partnered with the city to open the centre. 

"[The shelter] is going to play a vital role," said Mayor Jim Watson as he toured the facility.

"When doctors tell you to self-isolate that's fine, but if you have no place to go and self-isolate aside from a shelter, that's not the best place you should go because our vulnerable population that live in shelters are more susceptible to illness and the spread of illness."

Centre can hold dozens

The centre has enough capacity for up to 40 people to self-isolate, but will start with 10 beds. The 24-hour operation will be run by peer and client care workers from OICH, along with doctors, nurses and support from Ottawa hospitals and paramedics. 

The centre has a mobile assessment van, which has been on the road since Tuesday. It visits the city's homeless shelters where clients are located.  Anyone with symptoms typical of COVID-19 is tested and sent to the centre until the results of the test come back. The van can also pick up people from a hospital. 

A mobile assessment centre has been operational since Tuesday. The van goes to shelters and meeting places for the homeless to test and assess them for COVID-19. (Boris Proulx/Radio-Canada)

"We're really trying to make sure that as soon as people's symptoms appear that they get the care that they need and that we can determine whether they're safe to be in that population or whether they actually need to go into self-isolation," said Wendy Muckle, executive director of Ottawa Inner City Health. 

"Many homeless people have very poor health, and so the symptoms of COVID-19 are things which they often experience every day. So we need to be really, really vigilant that when symptoms appear somebody who knows what they're doing sees them and actually figures out what needs to happen next."

Hoping for more funding

The shelter is being funded by Ottawa Public Health but the Mayor said he hopes to tap into federal funds recently announced to help shelters during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Jim Watson was given a tour of the facility Saturday by Wendy Muckle, executive director of Ottawa Inner City Health. (Boris Proulx/Radio-Canada)

Muckle said the team already visited the city's homeless shelters to identify those who might be vulnerable to the virus and come up with a plan for their care. When someone has to go to the specialized isolation shelter, there will be a plan developed for each individual to respond to their physical and mental health needs, including if they have any substance abuse issues, she said.


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.


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