In what the chair of Toronto’s Board of Health is calling a first in Canada, the city has converted a 200-room hotel into a COVID-19 recovery centre for people experiencing homelessness.
“We have on-site medical staff, as well as shelter staff,” said Mary Anne Bedard, the general manager of shelter with the city’s support and housing administration. The centre, which is located in an undisclosed area of Toronto, opens Tuesday.
“Meals, laundry cleaning will all be provided,” Bedard told CBC Toronto.
Bedard says the novel coronavirus, which has infected almost 600 people and killed six in the city so far, poses a significant challenge for the estimated 8,000 people experiencing homelessness in Toronto, because they often suffer from other underlying health conditions that make COVID-19 even more deadly for them.
Homeless ‘particularly vulnerable’
Those who use shelters “are particularly vulnerable to a respiratory illness such as this,” she said.
“And there’s very little opportunity to isolate people who become sick with COVID-19 while maintaining them in their current shelter accommodations.”
The city partnered with Inner City Health Associates, a group of doctors funded through the Ontario health ministry, to create a facility allowing people experiencing homelessness to get the care they need without spreading the virus through a shelter.
Those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms in shelters are first referred to the city’s isolation site — a 40-bed city facility in Scarborough run by nurses that opened nearly two weeks ago.
Patients are tested there for the virus and isolated while they wait for results to come in. If someone tests positive, the patient will then be sent to the recovery centre.
So far, four people are expected to be sent there.
Once deemed healthy, Bedard says, they will return to the shelter system.
“It’s … why we have moved to open Canada’s first recovery facility,” Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said.
“The measure of our city’s response to COVID-19 will be based on how we protect the most vulnerable. That includes seniors, it includes the homeless community and it includes our front-line workers.”
The city says it costs about $200 a night to house a person at the COVID-19 recovery centre and it is covering the expenses.
“This includes room, food, cleaning, linen and security,” said Bedard. The city is also planning for a second site if required.
“No resource will be spared to ensure … the City of Toronto steps up to take care of everyone,” Cressy said.
‘The city can’t do it alone’
But “the city can’t do it alone,” he said, calling on other municipalities to do the same.
“We have had referrals for hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area for homeless individuals in other regions being sent to our isolation facility because other municipalities have not created the same infrastructure,” Cressy said.
“If we are truly going to care for the most vulnerable, not just in Toronto, but right across this province, we need this kind of comprehensive action on homelessness from Sudbury to Windsor and from Toronto to Ottawa.”
Kingston, Ont. is also expected to open a self-isolation centre this week.
In a news release, the municipality says the centre will allow people experiencing homelessness to self-isolate, including those who may have COVID-19 and others who have symptoms and are awaiting testing.
“During such a challenging time for our health system and hospitals, the centre is an emergency department diversion strategy that provides safe and appropriate supports for individuals who would not otherwise have access to a space to self-isolate or be quarantined ” said Karen Berti, the supervisor of Addiction and Mental Health Services for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.