COVID-19 breeding stress, conflict in Ottawa rooming houses

People who live in rooming houses are facing more stress during a pandemic that asks them to isolate while they may share a kitchen and bathroom with dozens of house mates.

Outreach workers doing more visits, providing more services as pandemic stretches on

Rooming house life comes with particular stress during COVID-19, resident says

CBC News Ottawa

7 months ago
Marc LeBlanc, who lives in a Centretown rooming house, says he was hospitalized at the beginning of the pandemic with what turned out to be bacterial pneumonia — and that coming back to the rooming house made him realize how important social contact can be. 1:33

When Marc LeBlanc returned to his Centretown rooming house after being hospitalized in March, he was met with frosty reception.

"I was treated a bit like a pariah," LeBlanc said.

He'd been taken to hospital with a presumptive case of COVID-19, though it later turned out to be bacterial pneumonia. 

"A lot of people didn't want to have anything to do with me. Even to this day now, there's people that are staying away from me because they're really not sure if I had it or not," LeBlanc said.

"I don't blame them. If you would've seen me when I came out of the hospital, I look[ed] really, really, really bad. I looked like skin and bones."

LeBlanc, who is 59 and has asthma, says he tries his best to follow public health guidelines, but it's difficult while sharing a home with 40 people.

Rooming houses may be an affordable alternative to the shelter system for some people. But those in this shared living arrangement have needed more support as some other services, like drop-ins, have cut back hours during the pandemic.

Fear of COVID-19 creating conflict: social worker

LeBlanc said isolation can further compound his mental health. He said it has made the outreach work from Centretown Community Health Centre all the more important.

Wendy McKinley, an outreach case manager with the centre, said fear of COVID-19 is creating conflict in rooming houses, where several people may share a common kitchen and bathroom.

"If people suspect that their neighbour may have contacted COVID ... the fear makes them angry and makes them want that person to be as far away as possible," McKinley said.

Wendy McKinley, outreach case manager with Centretown Community House Centre, says house visits have become more important with COVID-19 limiting interactions at drop-ins and other support venues. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The Ottawa Public Health has been running isolation centres in converted community centres and announced a new one in a hotel will be opening on Dec. 21. The reduction of typical drop-in supports, however, have made outreach work even more important.

"We're eyes in the buildings because people's mental health is declining, substance abuse is increasing," McKinley said.

Outreach work expanded, says nurse

Yolanda Dare, an outreach nurse, said their work has expanded from screening to include COVID-19 testing and even food drop off for people in a precarious housing situation. 

"A lot of these clients are just coming out of shelter," she said.

"Access to food was a big issue for a lot of our clients who are living well below the poverty line and can't make ends meet on whatever social assistance they're on."

WATCH | Taking support to people in need:

Outreach services fill gaps as other social services shut down during pandemic

CBC News Ottawa

7 months ago
Yolanda Dare, outreach nurse at the Centretown Community Health Centre, says outreach visits have become even more important during the pandemic as traditional supports, like food banks and addiction services, shut down. 1:01

She said at the time same time she's supporting them in managing their other health and mental health needs.

"The humanity of it all is just a little bit overwhelming sometimes," she said. "We do our little bit to try to alleviate some of that pressure on people."

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