Motels and college dorms to house homeless during pandemic

The message couldn't be more clear: everyone has to practice physical distancing to try to flatten the COVID-19 curve. But what does that look like in practical terms for the homeless? In Sudbury, it looks like hotel rooms, and in Timmins, college dorms.

'Regardless of how people feel about the homeless, the priority at this time is preventing spread of Covid-19'

The health of the homeless tends to be complicated and they need to be protected, particularly in this time of physical distancing, a Sudbury community health leader says. Those complexities often put homeless people at greater risk of contracting infection. (David Donnelly/CBC)

It's not so simple for everyone to self-isolate during this global pandemic.

Homeless people staying in shelters don't have the luxury of a personal bedroom or bathroom. But, it is important for everyone — regardless of means or circumstance — to have some space right now. 

A motel in Sudbury is going to shelter Sudbury's homeless population for the next three months.
The director of programs and planning with the Canadian Mental Health Association says they're moving from the shelter in downtown Sudbury to a Regent Street motel.

Stephanie Lefebvre says clients at the motel will have access to washrooms, showers and beds that are properly distanced. And the second floor will be for isolating people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
She noted the health of the homeless tends to be complicated and they need to be protected.

"Those complexities often put them at greater risk of contracting infection or of what might happen if they do become infected," she said.

"The negative health consequences for them may be greater than for many because of the other things happening in their lives."

The new accommodations are expected to be ready next week.

Keeping people 'busy'

There are changes to homeless shelters in other communities so they can spread out as well. North Bay's shelter has moved to the YMCA downtown. In Timmins, clients are staying in college dorms. About 25 people are now at Northern College, and the rooms been outfitted to help people keep busy during this period of self isolation.

"We went out and secured 25 televisions to install in all of the rooms. So at least they'd be able to to watch television and and be able to stay informed on the news," said Brian Marks, the chief administrative officer of the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board. He's also chair of the Living Space homeless shelter in Timmins.

"We also have personnel on site to ensure that people have activities and can can do things while they're there."

Each room has its own bathroom, and there are common rooms on each floor.

"But we do enforce only a certain number in the common room at one time," he said. "To my knowledge there are ping pong tables and pool tables in the common rooms."

Marks said they are doing their best to monitor people who are homeless, and ensure they get the services they need.

"I just think it's important for people to understand that, regardless of how they feel about the homeless, where they should live and how they should be served, there is only one priority at this time. And that is to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The priority is to ensure that we stop the spread of this virus at this time."