Isolation centre for unhoused people with COVID-19 nearly full as Omicron moves through shelters

Strain on Toronto hotel that serves as isolation centre comes as 34 homeless shelters in outbreak

by Muriel Draaisma, Kayla Hounsell

As 34 homeless shelters grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks, an isolation centre for unhoused people with the virus is 95 per cent full and that means the facility will accept only complex cases.

City officials have directed shelter staff to develop plans that will enable unhoused people infected with the virus to isolate “in situ,” which means remaining in place at the shelters in which they are staying.

Homeless advocates say people who try to access a bed at the isolation and recovery centre are not having any luck and they are urging the city to enlist outside help, including from the federal government, to manage the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in shelters.

They say the city needs to create space in the isolation centre. And they say they believe the shelter system may be collapsing because of worker burnout, staff shortages and the recent number of deaths in the shelter system.

A senior city official, however, rejected the idea of outside help, saying the city is managing the situation. He added that the shelter system is functioning.

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Lack of isolation space ‘alarming,’ street nurse says

Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and a member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, said the lack of available space at the isolation centre is “alarming.” The network includes homeless advocates, shelter providers, health care professionals, legal workers, faith leaders and researchers, all of whom are focused on homelessness.

“Now essentially, unless you are direly ill, you don’t get into that recovery hotel,” Crowe said.

“The shelters have been directed by the city to keep you in place. If you have COVID right now, it doesn’t matter. You’re stuck in the shelter and somehow they are trying to create a space for you to be isolated in, which is totally impossible unless you’re in a shelter which has single rooms and which is extremely rare.