Manitoba adding 140 beds for Winnipeg homeless population to self-isolate

A new facility will open later this week in Winnipeg to provide a safe spot for 140 Manitobans who are homeless and need to self-isolate.

The new units are in one location and meant for people who have COVID-19 or are waiting for a test result, according to Kris Clemens with End Homelessness Winnipeg.

“There is supportive staff available around the clock to provide appropriate medical care and meals,” Clemens said.

The province said the extra 140 spots are needed because the 61 beds it currently has available are already full.

“A 39-room alternative isolation accommodation shelter site has been at or near capacity for the past three weeks, prompting the opening of a second, 22-room site. That site is now also at capacity,” wrote a spokesperson for Manitoba Shared Health.

Entire system safer with more self-isolation rooms

End Homelessness Winnipeg said the new isolation units will help make the entire system safer, from soup kitchens to shelters. 

The group works with all levels of government and community organizations to support Winnipeg’s homeless population.

“Individuals who have been tested or have symptoms know they’ll have somewhere that’s dedicated, that’s private, that’s supportive, that can help them through this process,” Clemens said.

“So it eases some of the fears and risks people might face about going to get tested, and that in itself helps to prevent COVID transmission and keep the community a bit safer.”

The self-isolation units are also classified as “low barrier,” which means someone who is having complex mental health challenges, or who’s using drugs or alcohol, is still able to stay there.

Kris Clemens with End Homelessness Winnipeg. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The locations of the units are not being made public, the province said, because it’s concerned with the stigma associated with the facilities.

But Clemens said each unit will offer private accommodation.

“It allows the person to isolate and quarantine safely in their own space as much as any of us might be asked to do in our homes,” she said.

No data on homeless COVID rate

Clemens said statistics aren’t being kept on how many people who are homeless have contracted COVID-19.

However, they know the homeless and lower-income population is at higher risk since they also have higher rates of other health issues.

More than 35,000 households in Winnipeg are in “core housing need” as well, which means they live in overcrowded or unsafe homes, which can also make self-isolating difficult.

“Not everyone has a home that they can safely isolate at,” she said.

Further complicating things is that many of the normal spots where a homeless person may spend time right now are also closed, including informal locations like coffee shops or libraries.

Staffing at different support services has also become a bigger issue, she said.

“In some cases there have been some sudden service changes as organizations had to shift gears because of a positive case or needs of staff to isolate,” she said.

To deal with that, organizations are working together to help each other out with staff while also looking for additional volunteers.

More supports coming: chief public health officer

Manitoba’s chief public health officer acknowledged on Thursday that it can be hard for someone to follow rules to stay home if they don’t have one in the first place.

“The public health restrictions that we have in place don’t provide the same level of benefit for people who are under-housed or living in poverty or near poverty,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

Roussin said they’re looking to increase COVID-19 testing for the homeless population, as well as rapid testing.

“We’re working on what sort of other measures we can put in place to target [and] further support this population. And so hopefully we’ll have more to come on that,” he said.

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