COVID-19: Bracing to protect the city’s homeless

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The NWT Disabilities Council says its responding to the “fluid crisis” created by COVID-19 concerns by beefing up health safety measures at Yellowknife’s joint sobering centre and day shelter ⁠— while securing additional spaces in the event of an outbreak ⁠— to safeguard some of the community’s most vulnerable residents.

The NWT Disabilities Council (NWTDC) is implementing new policies and protocols at the Day Shelter/Sobering Centre with the main goal of keeping services running while supporting the city’s homeless population., stated a news release issued Monday.

The day shelter and sobering centre opened on 50th Street, right next to the Northern Lites Motel and across the street from the Northern News Services newspaper office. Ezra Black/NNSL photo.
The Sobering Centre/Day Shelter on 50 Street. NNSL file photo.

To keep both clients and staff safe, NWTDC stated it has bolstered access screening and tightened restrictions — protocols are in place for staff who have recently travelled, and only the homeless and “required professionals” are allowed inside the premises.

“The implementation of access screening, protective equipment, increased hygiene and infection controls will help to quickly identify and address any person presenting as symptomatic,” stated the release.

Efforts are also underway to keep clients informed.

NWTDC stated clients were briefed on the new measures at a meeting Monday. Service users are being educated with realistic harm reduction tips, including: “accessible alternatives to sharing bottles/drug paraphernalia/cigarettes; hand-washing; and social distancing).

A sign affixed to the joint sobering centre and day shelter, operated by the NWT Disabilities Council, advises recent travellers to self-isolate before entering the building. Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.

“NWTDC is aware of the vulnerability of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses during this current global health crisis,” stated the release.

Despite preparations to combat the spread of COVID-19, which the disabilities council stated were developed in anticipation of last week’s pandemic declaration, the council and its government partners face a daunting reality: if an outbreak occurs, there will be a need to support both virus-free clients and service users who test positive for COVID-19.

That means securing additional spaces to support homeless people in the following ways:

  • A space for people to come together that are COVID-19 free where they can interact, be safe and have access to necessities while being able to maintain social distancing.
  • A space for people who have been identified and tested to self-isolate because the homeless population will not have access to the spaces like their housed counterparts.
  • A space for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to be supported, if hospitalization is not required.”

While there are no current plans to move operations from the 50 Street Day Shelter/Sobering Centre, NWTDC stated “sites are currently being identified and secured through the GNWT and some will be supported through NWTDC and Advanced Medical Solutions (AMS) and some through NTHSSA.”

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.

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