A new place for homeless people to self-isolate, set to open by the end of the week, is coming in the nick of time as quarantine facilities have maxed out.
Siloam Mission was asked this week to provide space for an individual who had nowhere to isolate while awaiting COVID-19 test results, even though the person had symptoms, said communications manager Luke Thiessen.
Only one isolation bed was available in the city, he said, and public health officials wanted to hold it for someone with a confirmed COVID case.
"I know that the existing facilities have been either full or very near full for the past couple of days, and that’s been causing some concern," Thiessen said Thursday.
The concern about available quarantine space is relatively new, Thiessen said. It's due to increased community spread and colder weather forcing people to find shelter.
Tessa Whitecloud, executive director at One Just City, said she has seen demand for the organization's resources shoot up in recent weeks. More families have asked the organization for food and it has been asked when the overnight warming centre will open. It usually opens Jan. 1.
"People living in encampments want more options. People living in crowded rooming houses are finding it harder to stay where they are, or that welcome is being closed because of the potential for sharing the virus," she said Thursday.
"The first wave was really emotionally difficult but people could really use what little they had maybe saved or collected to get themselves through. With this wave, we’re seeing that people have already pushed their financial limits."
Whitecloud said the warming centre space in Osborne Village is under construction, but if enough money is raised to finish it, One Just City hopes to open the shelter as early as Christmas Eve.
Chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said Wednesday a 140-bed facility will open by the end of the week to support family and individuals unable to properly isolate as existing facilities, numbering nearly 80 beds, reach capacity.
End Homelessness Winnipeg celebrated the province's commitment, noting demand for quarantine space has surged in recent weeks.
"The announcement of 140 additional alternative isolation accommodations units opening this week, for people awaiting test results or recovering from COVID-19 who don’t have a place of their own, reflects the impacts of this pandemic on our whole community," said CEO Lucille Bruce in a statement.
"Since the original location with 39 units first reached capacity in recent weeks, community and health-care partners have worked tirelessly to set up alternative accommodations for those in need. Most importantly, these individual units highlight that housing is health care: in order to follow public health orders to isolate and stay home, one must have a home."
While details about the facility have yet to be announced, Thiessen said Siloam Mission is "optimistic" that the new capacity will serve community needs.
"I think it’s really encouraging to see that we’re not just adding a handful more beds or isolation units but doubling or tripling what’s available," he said. For what we’re seeing right now, with any luck we won’t need all that space."
On Thursday chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin acknowledged the "disproportionate" effect of the pandemic on those living in poverty, and touted the government's new initiatives to help them follow public health rules.
"Of course the public health restrictions we have in place don’t provide the same level of benefit for people who are underhoused or living in poverty or near poverty, so we’ve put a number of things in place. We’re increasing opportunities for testing in the area, including looking at rapid testing. We’ve expanded our alternative isolation accommodations in the area so we are trying to respond to that demand," Roussin said.
The Main Street Project declined to answer questions about capacity at its isolation facility.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.