Homeless people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are suspected of having it will be able to go into isolation at a Calgary hotel established Monday for the purpose.
The hotel is not being identified for privacy reasons and no longer accepts paying customers.
Calgary health officials determined that 100 units would be needed for homeless people who need a place to self-quarantine but don’t require hospitalization.
“How we look at it is, they’re not ill enough to stay in hospital, but they’re too ill to stay in shelter or on the streets,” explained Joy Bowen-Eyre, chief executive officer of The Alexandra Community Health Centre.
“This offers a supportive environment to help these folks who have been tested positive and because of that it’s staffed 24/7 with medical supports within the hotel.”
The Calgary Homeless Foundation, the project lead, is expecting all 100 units will be available by the end of the week.
The assisted self-isolation site can also be used by homeless people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive or are experiencing an unrelated illness that makes them too sick to stay in a shelter.
In addition to the medical staff, mental health and addiction support is on hand. Units have been retrofitted to safely house the new residents, CHF says.
“We take this responsibility very seriously, following all health and safety protocols required in converting a space designed for recreation into what is, in effect, a medical facility,” said Gail Boehm, acting chief executive officer of CHF, in a statement.
Homeless shelters across the province have had to reduce capacity as a result of physical distancing measures implemented to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Edmonton’s Expo Centre opened as an overflow shelter on Mar. 23 for those affected by the coronavirus, and it allows daily drop-ins in separate halls of the centre for healthy patrons. In Toronto, hotels are being used to accommodate people experiencing homelessness, with some designated for those who are awaiting test results and others for those who have tested positive.
Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre has also opened as an overflow shelter, with more capacity being added this week.
Despite Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s hopes, hotels were ruled out as overflow shelters in the city, primarily because of time constraints. The process leading up to Monday’s soft opening of the hotel for self-isolation took two weeks.
For addiction treatment centre Calgary Alpha House, the new site relieves some stress on their programs. They’ve closed off two rooms previously used for detox programs to allow space for isolation, in case someone is symptomatic. A few people have been tested and awaited their results inside the rooms. So far, no results have come back positive.
"Right now, we've shut down a portion of some of our other programming to accommodate people, but we didn't want to have people show up and not have a safe place to be,” said Kathy Christiansen, Alpha House executive director.
“We're really grateful that the new isolation spaces have been created and are rolling out this week. I think that is much needed for the next month or so until we understand what the greater need or what the greater impact will be.”
Organizers of the self-isolation site say their goal is to find housing for residents, and keep them off the streets and out of shelters when they are released.
The Globe and Mail
Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.