Toronto

'Miscommunication' delays opening of COVID-19 centre for people experiencing homelessness

The opening of a site where people experiencing homelessness can recover from COVID-19 is now on hold due to what appears to be a misunderstanding between the City of Toronto and its partner in the project. The facility, located in a converted 200-room hotel in an undisclosed location, was to begin operations Tuesday.

Facility is not designed for COVID-positive people to recover in, doctors group says

Inside the 200-room converted hotel at an undisclosed Toronto location. Each patient will receive a room, meals, and laundry. Medical staff and shelter staff will also be on the site. (City of Toronto)

The opening of a site where people experiencing homelessness can recover from COVID-19 is now on hold, partly due to what appears to be a misunderstanding between the City of Toronto and its partner in the project.

The facility, located in a converted 200-room hotel in an undisclosed location, was to begin operations Tuesday, but now the city will not say when it will begin operations there.

Inner City Health Associates (ICHA), a group of 100 doctors working with the city on the initiative, says the site isn't suitable, and says Tuesday's attempt to open it was the result of "miscommunication" on the part of the city.

"It is neither open yet, nor is it designed in any way or funded to be a site for people who are confirmed to be COVID positive for any form of recovery," said Andrew Bond, ICHA's medical director, in an email to CBC News Tuesday.

Bond says he made the city aware of his group's concerns "consistently" and reiterated those misgivings on Monday.

"The physical building cannot, in our professional opinion, and that of our humanitarian organization advisers, offer sufficiently safe space or with a sufficient staffing model for people who are COVID-19 [positive] for observation and monitoring. This has been articulated clearly and remains the case," he said

"I was informed that there was a misunderstanding on the side of the city and that the misunderstanding has been clarified and that they understood the reasoning," he said.

People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus because many of them have underlying medical problems that make COVID-19 even more deadly for them. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Despite that, City of Toronto staff pressed ahead Tuesday afternoon with a news conference unveiling the site. And when CBC News asked for a response to Bond's comments, no direct answer was given.

"We do recognize that there are going to be situations where somebody will need to go to hospital. We also recognize that the hospital is going to be under considerable strain," Mary Anne Bedard, the general manager of shelter support for the City of Toronto, responded.

"We want to make sure people who are experiencing homelessness who tested positive, that don't have severe symptoms, have a place to recover from this illness."

But Bond says the converted hotel is currently funded and designed to act as a holding facility for those waiting for test results and nothing more.

'Close observation is not possible'

"Close observation is not possible within a 13-story, single-room, single bathroom model, that would require an extremely intensive clinical model very similar to a hospital level of resources and staffing," he said.

In an email Tuesday evening to CBC, Bedard said the hotel will both provide isolation spaces for those waiting for tests results, as well as for those who have tested positive, to recover if "their health status and support needs are mild enough not to require hospitalization and where no other adequate facility is available."

But later, in response to emailed questions from CBC News, she said the centre is not open yet, although "our staff are onsite and ready to receive clients" and ICHA staff have been at the site "since last week."

Bedard also said the centre "has been toured by City Occupational Health and Safety staff and [CUPE] Local 79 staff." She added approval by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada is "in the works and we will open as soon as that is in place."

She did not give a date for the opening and would only say the site would be operational when "the medical model is in place."

About the Author

Natalie Kalata

Senior Reporter, CBC News

Natalie is an award-wining senior reporter for CBC News Network and CBC The National specializing in Breaking news. Whether it's a terror attack or a royal tour, she brings the stories to you. Natalie lives in Toronto with her husband and family.

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