Halifax shelters pivot to keep spaces safe after COVID-19 outbreak, exposures

·3 min read
Those who are isolating at Metro Turning Point are being tested regularly after 6 cases were discovered at the shelter. ( - image credit)
Those who are isolating at Metro Turning Point are being tested regularly after 6 cases were discovered at the shelter. ( - image credit)

One shelter in Halifax is having to turn away people in need after discovering a COVID-19 outbreak, while others are changing the way they offer programming in order to protect staff and those who use their services.

Six people have tested positive for COVID-19 at Metro Turning Point, which supports men and people who are non-binary. The facility is operated by Shelter Nova Scotia.

Linda Wilson, executive director of Shelter Nova Scotia, said Tuesday one person is in hospital and the five others are isolating in a hotel.

"We're working very closely with Public Health," Wilson said. "We're having regular testing of the current guests at Metro Turning Point and also the employees who are there."

The positive cases mean Metro Turning Point cannot fill its six empty beds until at least Jan. 13, despite the bitter cold on Tuesday.

"It's horrible, but it's always horrible though," said Wilson. "We've been turning people away from the shelter for years when the beds are full."

Metro Turning Point staff
Metro Turning Point staff

Wilson encourages people to call shelters for help, even if they're not doing intake.

"They will be offered some support and advocacy to try to find a place to go, and the street navigators are also involved, as would be the Department of Community Services and income assistance, who would help people find a place to stay."

Wilson said the one positive of the pandemic is that it has brought all the support organizations and government departments together, instead of working in isolation.

"We do many, many things together and we keep each other better informed than ever," she said.

Shelter Nova Scotia has also had to change the way it operates the Housing Hub — a facility that allows people to shower, do laundry, or grab a bite. As of last week, Wilson said they no longer allow walk-ins.

"Now with this new COVID surge, we've had to do it by appointment only because we want to reduce the number of people who are in and out."

Youth shelter juggles staffing challenges

Phoenix Youth Programs has also had to pivot in recent weeks. While their shelter for youth has not had any positive cases, exposures have led to scrambling to ensure they can keep offering their programs.

"It's probably definitely a daily occurrence where we have to figure out different parts of staffing, making sure that we still have a full complement," said Michelle Poirier, the associate director of residential programs.

"That has been a challenge, but we've been doing the best that we can with the staff that we have, and they've been absolutely amazing in their ability to adapt."

Phoenix's shelter is constantly full and houses 20 youth. But unlike adult shelters, each person gets their own room. Poirier said that has become a significant advantage if anyone needs to isolate.

"We're very lucky to have that," she said. "If somebody has to isolate, they can isolate. If they're not feeling well, that kind of thing."

The shelter does have shared common spaces, including a kitchen and dining room. Poirier said they've made masking mandatory, and instead of having common meals, they limit the number of people in those spaces at a time.

"Our youth have been extremely adaptable and understanding," said Poirier, who noted the demand for Phoenix's youth programs has increased significantly over the last two years.

She and Wilson said the pandemic is just exacerbating the bigger issue — the lack of affordable housing.

"It was a challenge to begin with, but with COVID on top of that, it has been relentless," said Poirier.

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