Downtown Mission agrees to close shelter operating against health unit order

·3 min read
Ron Dunn is the executive director of the Downtown Mission. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
Ron Dunn is the executive director of the Downtown Mission. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

The Downtown Mission says it has agreed to shut down a temporary shelter that was operating in defiance of an order from the public health unit.

The shelter's executive director, Ron Dunn, issued a statement on Thursday morning saying the location at 850 Ouellette Avenue would be closing as of 5 p.m. and not taking any more clients.

"With the attention that has been focused on the absence of providing real-time emergency shelter services, as well as the improvement and increased capacity at the Aquatic Centre and Salvation Army, we feel confident decommissioning the temporary shelter at 850 Ouellette Ave.," he said.

The site has been at the centre of an escalating dispute between the Mission and the City of Windsor. The conflict comes amid a large COVID-19 outbreak affecting members of the homeless community that prompted a scramble to house those affected.

Dunn recently opened the Ouellette Avenue space to new clients he said had been turned away from other sites. The action defies a Feb. 22 order from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit calling for the suspension of new admissions to the site and the continued shut down of the other Mission sites that were already closed.

The city has said there is room for all at its two sites, the Isolation and Recovery Centre and the new emergency shelter at the Windsor International Aquatic Training Centre.

5 clients test positive

On Wednesday morning, many of the shelter's clients walked to the temporary shelter to receive a rapid COVID-19 test and seek placement at the shelter.

The city said five out of the 14 people tested were positive for the virus. All of those who went to the aquatic centre have been provided with a place to stay through the Isolation and Recovery Centre and other shelters.

Andrew Teliszewsky, chief of staff for Mayor Drew Dilkens, said in a statement Thursday the test results "confirm that the actions of the Downtown Mission over the course of the past few days have exposed multiple individuals to the deadly COVID-19 virus."

He said there is more than enough space for everyone seeking shelter, and since the aquatic centre opened up, more than 20 people seeking emergency shelter have transitioned to more permanent housing.

The positive cases mean everyone else who stayed at 850 Ouellette Ave. and are looking to attend other shelters will need to isolate as suspected positive cases until they are medically cleared, according to Teliszewsky.

The city is set to receive nearly $6.9 million in new funding from the province to help protect people experiencing homelessness in the pandemic.

Meanwhile, advocates for people experiencing homelessness participated in a small protest outside Windsor City Hall on Thursday.

Looking to reopen Mission sites later this month

Dunn said the Downtown Mission will now be focusing its efforts on putting COVID-19 protocols and procedures in place that will allow it reopen its main sites, at 875 Ouellette Ave. and 664 Victoria Ave. at the end of March.

"We want to reopen as soon and as safely as possible. Our guests are looking forward returning to more familiar surroundings and the programs that they need for support," Dunn said.

Theresa Marentette, CEO of WECHU, said the health unit will be providing feedback on some plans that were recently submitted by the Mission.

"We are working on a letter of understanding to outline the expectations moving forward, but we just received the plans and need a chance to review them and consult with the Downtown Mission," she said at a media briefing on Thursday morning.