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Windsor's largest homeless shelter reopens after month-long shutdown due to COVID-19

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit issued a temporary closure order on Feb. 22 after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in the shelter.

Public health unit rescinds temporary closure order of Downtown Mission

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit issued a temporary closure order Feb. 22 after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The Downtown Mission is open again after the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) rescinded its temporary closure order. The news was announced Thursday in separate statements by the Downtown Mission (DTM), the city and the health unit. 

The order was put in place by the health unit Feb. 22 after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared, with cases showing up among both staff and clients of the shelter. although the Mission had voluntary closed a few days earlier.

The closure affected the Mission's facilities at 850 Ouellette Ave. and 664 Victoria Ave. and led to the creation of a temporary shelter at the International Aquatic and Training Centre.

In a statement issued by WECHU, medical officer of health Dr Wajid Ahmed said he was happy to see the Mission reopen but warned the outbreak is not over.

"To be clear, the COVID-19 outbreak remains in effect at this time," he said. "The DTM, in collaboration with the health unit and health system partners, developed appropriate Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures to ensure the safe reopening of the facilities to their guests."

"The DTM will continue to be supported by the WECHU until the outbreak is rescinded, as well as into the coming weeks."

People living at the aquatic centre shelter, set up by the city, will slowly move back to the Mission. Close to 20 residents a day will be re-located, with the city expecting the temporary emergency shelter will likely be closed by Mar. 29.

Since the centre became a temporary shelter Feb. 21, the Mission says it has provided shelter, meals and COVID-19 testing to 160 people, with 150 people being vaccinated.

"Without the collaboration of agencies that came together during our outbreak, providing emergency shelter to those in need, this incredible transition would not have been possible," said the executive director of the Mission, Rev. Ron Dunn, in a statement.

"Our Mission staff adapted quickly to the change in locations and staffed the Aquatic Centre along with partnering agencies, with excellence and professionalism." 

Shelter clients prepare to move again

Karim Karrouch is one of the people who has been staying at the aquatic centre. He says the move to the Mission should not be too difficult for him and agrees it is necessary. 

"We are have to be flexible at this time and follow the law, whatever the principle is because it is a hard time for everybody and the rules are the rules and we have to keep people safe first — and then look after the situation coming next." 

Another shelter client, Susan Fawcett, said while she is prepared to re-locate to the Mission, she was more comfortable at the aquatic centre because of the additional space. 

Earlier this month the Mission butted heads with the city and the public health unit by defying the closure order and reopening one of its locations. This was following claims that homeless people were being turned away from the aquatic centre.

With files from Talish Zafar

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