'It's not making sense to anybody:' Those seeking shelter caught in dispute between city and Mission

The Mission opened its doors to new shelter clients on Sunday, in defiance of a health unit order issued due to a COVID-19 outbreak, because they weren't permitted a stay at either of the city's two temporary facilities.

Mission clients walked to new shelter site on Wednesday seeking admission

Kevin Keane says he was turned away from entering the city's emergency shelter at the Windsor International Training and Aquatic Centre. He went to the aquatic centre Wednesday with several others to get tested and possibly be offered shelter. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Among those arriving at the city's emergency shelter at the aquatic centre Wednesday was Kevin Keane, who said he's been bounced between multiple sites in the last few days amid a COVID-19 outbreak in the region's homeless population. 

Keane, like several others, is caught in the middle of a feud between the City of Windsor, the local health unit and Downtown Mission —  all of which are scrambling to appropriately provide shelter for those living on the streets. 

"They're trying to prevent this COVID and keep everybody safe, but on the other hand they're just throwing everybody to the wind, it's not making sense to anybody," Keane said. He said he had previously been denied access to the emergency shelter.

He said he had completed 10 days of quarantine at the city run Isolation and Recovery Centre (IRC) and has three negative COVID-19 tests. 

Keane and several others walked over to the aquatic centre Wednesday morning after staying at a "rogue" shelter set up by the Downtown Mission's executive director Ron Dunn. Dunn did so in defiance of a health unit order that has told him to keep all his locations closed and not accept new clients. 

Over the last few days, Dunn and some of his clients have told CBC News that the city's emergency shelter at the Windsor International Training and Aquatic Centre has turned people away. Though the city denies this, the result is an ongoing dispute between the Mission and City and health unit over the best course of action for housing the region's homeless population and keeing them safe amid the pandemic.

The city claims that it is following all appropriate measures to shelter people, which includes having them either isolate at the IRC or stay at the aquatic centre, pending COVID-19 results and exposure. 

But Dunn has said that the city's plan leaves a gaping hole, with some of the region's homeless being turned away from all facilities. 

Meanwhile, Windsor-Essex's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said he wants to find a solution to the dispute over the Mission's temporary shelter, that doesn't involve issuing tickets or fines.

"We will ... continue to work and find ways to find a peaceful resolution to it rather than issuing any tickets or fines," Ahmed said during a tour of the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Nature Fresh Farms Recreation Complex Wednesday morning.

Clients of the Downtown Mission made their way to the aquatic centre on Wednesday morning. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

5 staying at 'rogue' shelter test positive

On Wednesday morning, many of the shelter's clients walked to the temporary shelter at the Windsor International Aquatic Training Centre to receive a rapid COVID-19 test and seek placement at the shelter.

In an email to CBC News, the mayor's chief of staff said five people who stayed at the former library site with Dunn have tested positive.

All of those who went to the aquatic centre have been provided with a place to stay through the Isolation and Recovery Centre and other shelters.

The positive cases mean everyone else who stayed at 850 Ouellette Ave. and are looking to attend other shelters will need to isolate as suspected positive cases until they are medically cleared, the statement said.

"As a result of his actions, Mr. Dunn has put additional capacity strain on the Isolation & Recovery Centre (IRC) facility and may have caused individuals to become infected with COVID-19 through his decision to disobey Dr. Ahmed's Order," the mayor's chief of staff Andrew Teliszewsky said in a statement on Wednesday night.

Shelter clients frustrated with city response

Earlier on Wednesday, Dunn said that shelter clients who showed up at the aquatic centre were frustrated with the mayor claiming they are going "rogue" and violating COVID-19 protocols. He said he's trying to clear the 850 Ouellette Ave. facility.

"I'm expecting some answers back today from the health unit," he said.

The facility was ordered to stop admitting new clients on Feb. 22 due to a health unit order, which also forced the Mission to close its other locations.

Dunn reopened the location, a former city library branch, on Sunday to house 35 people who he said were being turned away from both the Isolation and Recovery Centre and the aquatic centre.

The city said in a news release that the reopening was "counterproductive to the paramount goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community." 

Dunn issued a news release Tuesday evening stating he will continue to go against the order "until a plan is in place to accommodate all people seeking emergency shelter in real time." 

As of Tuesday, there were 90 COVID-19 cases associated with the Downtown Mission outbreak.

With files from Jacob Barker

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