Downtown Brandon hotel turns into self-isolation centre to serve homeless

By | April 5, 2020

The Redwood Motor Inn will be putting a roof over the heads of some members of the homeless community who need a place to self-isolate in Brandon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We knew we needed a particular response for our homeless population,” said Carly Gasparini, director of the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, which is helping organize the new space.

“So we worked together again as a community team to identify a hotel that kind of met our needs and right away started identifying people.”

The group is bringing in people with chronic illnesses and those over the age of 65 who are in particular need of a place to self-isolate as the disease caused by the new coronavirus continues to spread across Manitoba.

The Brandon motel was the perfect fit for what they were looking for, Gasparini said. It’s close to downtown, making it easy for people to get there and for staff to bring food to them from the local soup kitchen.

And the motel already had a relationship with the community group because it helped house people when the city’s one shelter was overcrowded, she said. That allowed them to quickly work out a monthly rate to use the space as an isolation centre with federal funds earmarked for addressing homelessness.

“Really, we’re just trying to keep people safe. It’s really been a team community effort. Our soup kitchen is providing lunches, our shelter, [which] provides meals to people in the shelter, are also providing meals up there,” said Gasparini.

Homeless workers ‘unsung heroes’

Right now, 16 of the hotel’s 61 units are being used, with some of the new tenants self-isolating as they wait to hear the results of their tests for COVID-19.

Gasparini said the new space plays an important role in the community — one that people who have never experienced homelessness may not understand.

“It’s scary for all of us and so it’s particularly scary if you don’t have somewhere safe to go,” she said. “Having a safe home to isolate [in is] a luxury that lots of people take for granted in a time like this.”

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Gasparini said because people experiencing homelessness often spend time in large groups, share things like cigarettes and sleep in close quarters, they’re at a higher risk of contracting illnesses.

People aren’t locked in their rooms at the motel, Gasparini said, but they’re informed about the risks of COVID-19 and why it’s important for them to stay inside.

“This isn’t a jail. We don’t have guards standing at the door. We have made it really clear to people that they’re being offered this room because they are at risk,” she said. “We’re trying to not scare people, but explain the significant risks.”

Gasparini said she’s proud to be part of a team doing what they can to help lessen the Brandon community’s risk of spreading COVID-19.

“The homeless-serving sector is very much front-line. They’re kind of unsung heroes in this, across our country,” she said. “I think that’s how we get through this, is [by] finding good solutions together.”

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