Inside Winnipeg’s self-isolation centre for the homeless

By | May 6, 2020

WINNIPEG — Isolating during COVID-19 can be challenging enough if you have somewhere to go, but what if you didn’t?

The pandemic is posing additional challenges for the city’s most vulnerable.

 CTV News got an exclusive look inside Winnipeg’s self-isolation centre for the homeless Thursday. For privacy reasons, CTV News is not disclosing its location.

Main Street Project’s Executive Director Rick Lees said the concept came together within a week’s time. 

“We just kind of said, ‘Well, if we put together a hybrid model of the way Main Street Project does housing, and our detox — the way we do that, and we married those two protocols, you could actually create a model’,” said Lees. 

Once the idea was approved, Lees said they were given one week to open the isolation centre. In the seven days leading up to its opening, a major overhaul happened. 

“It needed quite a bit of work when we took on the building,” said Lees. “The elevator was not serviceable and wasn’t working. Most of the rooms were in various states of disrepair and couldn’t be occupied.” 

He said it cost $15,000 to get the elevator up and running. Generous donors provided furniture for the rooms. 

There are 39 rooms that have been transformed into isolation rooms, each equipped with a bedroom/living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Clients are given three meals a day while in isolation. They all also have a TV, phone, and activities. 

Aside from the obvious concerns surrounding COVID-19, there’s another challenge for staff. Many of the people isolating in this centre are also battling addiction. 

“We want to make sure that we have as many opportunities as possible for clients to be here in a safe way, and if that means that they’re using their substances, then we’ll support them through that,” said Dawn Cumming, Director of Detox and Stabilization with Main Street Project. 

Cumming said clients dealing with addiction will be offered supports and safer options, like clean needles, in hopes they’ll be able to leave with a better knowledge of safety. 

She said so far the program as a whole has been successful. 

Daniel is one of the clients who is currently awaiting his test results. He was in the detox program at Main Street Project when he started experiencing symptoms of the virus. 

“I had shortness of breath, and I couldn’t stop coughing throughout the night,” said Daniel. “It was stiffness and soreness in the bones. More in the neck and back area.” 

Daniel said he didn’t have a fever but was encouraged to get tested anyways. 

Nurses, like Kristy Riley, stop by to check on the clients each day — checking their vitals, but also their mental health. 

“As human beings, we’re meant to connect with other people, so that’s one of the big things that we want to make sure anyone who’s coming here is feeling that connection,” said Riley. 

She said staff will also call the clients two or three times a day to check-in, and build that connection. Clients also have the ability to call down to staff if they need to. 

So far, no one has tested positive for COVID-19 at the isolation centre.  

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