Advocates say COVID-19 outbreak at Windsor homeless shelter was 'inevitable'

A COVID-19 outbreak at a Windsor homeless shelter has another organization concerned it's only "a matter of time" before it experiences the same. 

The facility was declared in outbreak on Sunday

The Salvation Army in Windsor is the first homeless shelter in the region to be experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. (CBC)

A COVID-19 outbreak at a Windsor homelessness shelter has another organization concerned it's only "a matter of time" before it experiences the same. 

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at The Salvation Army Center of Hope in Windsor by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit on Dec. 27 — it's the region's first homelessness shelter to be experiencing one. 

The local health unit will not say how many cases are tied to the outbreak. The facility is one of 44 other places in outbreak across Windsor-Essex as of Tuesday. 

The Salvation Army did not want to provide an interview, but in an emailed statement to CBC News, it said it is working with the local health unit and "following all established protocols and processes."

The outbreak has executive director of Windsor's Downtown Mission Ron Dunn worried that his place will soon be next. 

"I believe that it's probably just a matter of time. We're still feeding 150 to 200 people three times a day," he said. "Where are these folks when they're not here? ... I have no idea. Are they being socially distant? Are they wearing their masks? I don't know. So yeah, it's definitely a concern for our staff and volunteers." 

Ron Dunn is the executive director of the Downtown Mission. He says he knows that people move between his locations and others on a daily basis. For this reason, he's always concerned COVID-19 might spread to his facility. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Homelessness advocate Lisa Valente says she isn't surprised about the outbreak, considering the public health barriers encountered by people experiencing homelessness. 

"I expected it, because when you're dealing with homelessness, they're coming across a lot of barriers," Valente said. "They might not have access to proper hand sanitation and they're in close quarters ... they're all together ... they're outside, they're in the close circle of friends and even when they're in the facilities, they are eating together." 

She added that they don't always have access to the most up to date information or guidance from public health. 

"I think it's inevitable because when you're in the mission and you're in shelter, yes, they are doing everything they can do to eliminate the spread of disease but ... once [the people] leave the facilities it's hard to track who's wearing a mask? Who's using hand sanitization? Who's using social distancing?"

WATCH: As the Salvation Army Centre of Hope deals with the effects of an outbreak, other shelter operators worry that that they could be next. In fact, Ron Dunn says a COVID-positive guest attended the Downtown Mission in the last few days.

Advocates talk about COVID-19 outbreak in homeless shelter

CBC News Windsor

6 months ago
Locals think it's only 'a matter of time' before other shelters also see an outbreak 2:17

Currently, the Downtown Mission has not had a COVID-19 outbreak, though Dunn says they did have a positive case last week that forced him and his staff to get tested. 

'We can't close'

If an outbreak were to take place, Dunn says unlike other industries, they can't just stop offering services because people depend on them. 

"We can't close, I can't imagine what happens to up to 200 people, three times a day with no food or shelter," Dunn said. "We don't have the luxury of saying 'well we're in an outbreak.' The show must go on, the work must continue. It's not like we can send them somewhere else." 

He said they'll continue to follow public health guidelines, but that they can't just shut down and leave people stranded or without supports. 

Homelessness advocate Lisa Valente says people experiencing homelessness encounter so many barriers that make it difficult. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Valente agreed with Dunn and said there's no alternative. 

"It would have to be business as usual, the alternative is being out in the cold and freezing to death," she said, adding she's not sure what else can be done at this time as shelters are doing their best to keep health protocols in place. 


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