COVID-19 outbreak at London, Ont. Men’s Mission is first in emergency shelter since beginning of pandemic.
LONDON, ONT -- Since the beginning of the pandemic there has been a concern about the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless and vulnerable population.
However it took until January 9, 2021 for the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) to declare an outbreak in a shelter.
"The marvel is given how contagious the virus is, we haven't had any cases in emergency shelter system in almost a year," says Peter Rozeluk, executive director of Mission Services in London, Ont.
"Given the demographic we deal with its surprising to me."
Rozeluk says he's had conversations with emergency shelters around North America and in Canada they have not seen the outbreaks that has happened in the general population.
"That is a mystery to me," says Rozeluk.
MLHU is reporting five staff and four clients of the Men's Mission at 459 York St. have tested positive for COVID-19.
"We have been concerned that this group of people has been susceptible to an outbreak because it is so hard to physically distance," says Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health for MLHU.
"We will be trying to work to support his population over the next few weeks."
Advocates for the homeless are crediting the shelter teams for their work during the pandemic. They say the best way to prevent outbreaks is to limit shelter occupancy.
"The hotel-motel is a good example of ways that practically they have been working to de-intensify within shelter spaces," says Abe Oudshoorn, a London housing and homeless advocate.
"My biggest concern is we had moratorium on evictions for spring and summer, and that was lifted right before the 2nd wave. Now evictions are being allowed by province."
Oudshoorn has been working hard to raise additional funds for WISH (Winter Interim Solution to Homelessness). He calls it a practical solution for those living rough.
"Imagine people staying in tents this time of year when its freezing outside," says Oudshoorn.
"People are going to congregate for warmth and safety in those environments. When we think about what keeps all of us safe, so much of it is to do with choice.
Not taking public transit, or isolating in our homes. These choices aren't available for everyone in the community."
Rozeluk says those who have tested positive have been moved out of the shelter to an isolation space. The staff who are COVID-19 positive are isolating at home.
For those still working, he continues to have his team wear medical masks, goggles and face shields. He says he has not seen any additional angst since the outbreak declaration.
"I think the vibe is the same in the community," says Rozeluk.
"There are those who are anxious, and those who were expecting it. We know in an emergency shelter, you'll have people with a compromised immune system, and people with communicable diseases. So I have not seen anything additional to what is in the community."
The city of London weighed in on the WISH trailers right next door to the Mission.
"The outbreak does not impact the plans to open the overnight resting spaces at 415 York Street," says Craig Cooper, manager of homeless prevention at the city of London.
"Individuals being matched with a space at this location are currently living unsheltered and do not have shelter at the Men’s Mission. All spaces in the winter response program, we will have all necessary Covid-19 screening and isolation space protocols in place to ensure the safety of both staff and individuals using the location."