The shelter`s infectious reaction was repeated, and employees held their collective breath while waiting to see if their COVID-19 dam would hold. COVID-19 entered the door in early May without notice and slept in one of the shelters. A week later, on May 14, Ottawa Public Health informed the shelter`s officers that a client had tested positive for respiratory virus. “We were preparing for the worst-case scenario,” says Deirdre Liberté, President and CEO of Shepherd. Complicating matters further is that Inner City Health`s personal protective equipment (PPE) provision had been sloppy. A medical provider did not complete the contract because it mistakenly felt that the agency was not on the province`s PSA award list, which was so rare that it had to be rationed. When the error was detected, most of the equipment was gone. The history of this response offers lessons in planning, coordination and caring that apply far beyond the hard blocks of Murray Street. Within days, covid-19 was diagnosed in five shepherd clients.
The city`s homeless are totally vulnerable to contagion, from influenza to gastrointestinal viruses. They live nearby and share bathrooms; they have little skill, physically distance; and many already have sanitary conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease and chronic lung disease, which increase their risk. Inner City Health has set up a laundry service to deliver fresh clothing. Volunteers supplemented these stocks by cooking thousands of clothing and masks, while face protectors were purchased by a donor with access to a 3D printer. Dairy Distillery, an Almonte company that converted its vodka production line to COVID-19 cleaning equipment, donated thousands of bottles of disinfectant by hand. “In 10 days,” says Liberty, “we have changed the way we have provided almost all of our services.” “We have to understand that we are in the midst of a really significant opioid crisis in Ottawa,” says Muckle. We knew that we had a population of people who might not really appreciate the isolation process. “It makes the case for a whole other topic: the fact that we have people who are employed but live in homeless shelters in Ottawa,” says Martine Dore, Cornerstone`s Executive Director. There is simply not enough access to safe and affordable housing for the working poor. At the Shepherds, the next phase of a COVID-19 response plan was triggered when officials learned that one of their clients had tested positive on May 14. “We are immediately on our way,” Liberty said.
Health authorities feared that COVID-19 would travel like wildfire to the homeless population, which focuses on four shelters in the city centre. Some feared it would overwhelm the city`s health care system. The first crack in the defense of the protection system came in the 61-bed complex operated by Cornerstone Housing for Women. One woman was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April, two more a month later. All the women were isolated at the Routhier centre. As a registered nurse, Muckle co-founded Inner City Health 20 years ago to provide homeless people in whom they lived with a wide range of health services. The agency works closely with the four downtown housing units: The Shepherds, The Ottawa Mission, The Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre and Cornerstone Housing for Women. It operates health centres in each of the facilities.