How the city of Toronto is trying to prevent the homeless from getting COVID-19
Homelessness puts people at higher risk of getting virus due to chronic health problems
The City of Toronto says it's creating programs that will add room for social distancing and isolation to protect people experiencing homelessness from the risks of COVID-19.
However, the city won't be increasing the capacity of its shelter system
Mary-Anne Bedard, general manager of the city's shelter, support and housing administration, told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday that there are still no known cases of COVID-19 in Toronto's shelters.
Bedard added that homeless people are at a heightened risk of getting the virus because many have chronic health conditions.
She said the city is responding with what she called a "three-tiered" approach.
The city is creating room for "additional social distancing spacing," with the first spaces having opened on Monday. By the end of the week, the city hopes to have 200 spaces with facilities that are currently empty. The city will move people within existing programs, particularly its 24-hour respite sites and 24-hour drop-ins, she said.
'Additional isolation spaces'
Also, the city is creating "additional isolation spaces" for people who are awaiting results of COVID-19 tests.
"This process has been initiated and the city continues to move people who need it over this week into isolation," the city said in a news release on Tuesday.
According to Bedard, anyone seeking shelter is being asked screening questions at all points of entry. Anyone seeking shelter who the city thinks should be examined for the virus is being sent to a provincial assessment centre, she said.
"People who are experiencing homelessness who are being tested for COVID-19 will not be admitted into our regular shelter system," the city said in the release.
"Instead, they will be isolated in separate spaces at a designated program location. This is the first program of its kind in Canada, as a medically supported isolation service for people who are homeless while they wait to receive their test results."
Bedard said the city is also working with provincial government to come up with an "appropriate service" for people who have tested positive for the virus.
"To date, no one has tested positive in the shelter system and the city is working hard to ensure it has a program available should that occur, and that it has the appropriate medical supports in place to protect staff, community partners and those it serves," the city added.
100 new refugee claimants in shelters each week
Bedard said about 100 new refugee claimants access the shelter system in Toronto each week. The federal government's move on Monday to close the border with some exceptions is expected to reduce the number of refugees entering its shelters.
She added that Toronto is asking the federal government to screen and quarantine anyone who has entered the country in the past 14 days at the border, particularly those who have nowhere to go where they can self-isolate if need be.
Meanwhile, the city is setting up 200 beds for self-isolation purposes for people who have entered the country in the past 14 days who are seeking temporary shelter in Toronto.
She said the city is provided staff at shelters with advice on enhanced prevention, control and cleaning measures.