The three homeless shelters in Guelph have been emptied and the 37 people staying in them have been moved to a local hotel to help weather the storm of COVID-19.
Shelters do not have the space or physical structure that allows for isolation and social distancing that are crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19, said Lori Richer, housing stability manager for County of Wellington Social Services.
“People experiencing homelessness in their shelters are being relocated today to a hotel to facilitate the self–isolation and social distancing requirements outlined by Public Health,” said Richer. “This is a short term solution.”
All three shelters in Guelph — Wyndham House Youth Emergency Shelter, Dwelling Place, and Stepping Stone — have been cleared and inhabitants moved to the hotel, said Gail Hoekstra, executive director of the Welcome In Drop In Centre.
Many of the services for people experiencing homelessness in Guelph have been funneled to the Drop In Centre in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are doing quite well, just because we have amazing staff and community partners that are making it run in the best and safest way possible," said Hoekstra.
The Drop In Centre is usually open to everybody, but is currently only open to those experiencing homelessness, she said.
“We are feeding people who are housed but food insecure out the back door — in a careful way," noted Hoekstra.
People inside are being screened and a physical distance of six feet is being maintained between everybody.
Homeless shelters in Guelph are operated by the Welcome In Drop In Centre and funded through the County of Wellington.
Staff at the individual shelters have been consolidated and will now be on site at all times in the hotel to support the 37 individuals now living at the hotel, said Richer.
COVID-19 symptoms can be mild in some people and more serious or even life-threatening for others, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, said Richer.
Shelter staff are completing daily screening and monitoring for symptoms of the people living at the hotel and following protocol created in partnership with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health to assess each individual and, if needed, send them to the recently opened Supported Isolation Centre.
“People living in shelters or on the street are particularly at risk if they have pre-existing health conditions,” said Richer. “Underlying health conditions can make COVID-19 more dangerous.”
In February, a total of 124 chronically homeless individuals were identified in Guelph-Wellington as part of the Quality-By-Name List.
The City of Guelph and Guelph Transit worked with the shelters to provide transportation from the shelters to the hotel.
For privacy reasons, the name and location of the hotel is being withheld, said Richer.
The hotel has been booked for a total of three weeks, with an option to extend if needed.
Richer said community partners have been working together in the pursuit of a more long term solution.
“But ultimately the best long term solution would be to secure permanent housing solutions for those people that are experiencing homelessness,” she said.
Richer asks landlords who have vacant units ready for occupancy to please contact the Welcome In Drop In Centre.
Hoekstra said the Drop In Centre has received a lot of support from the community so far during the COVID-19 crisis, including donations of food.
“That’s the good news story," she said. “People have really risen to the occasion to help our vulnerable people that don’t have a home to stay safe.”