Homeless Montrealers who present COVID-19 symptoms will be accompanied to testing centres and put up in a hotel while awaiting results, as a temporary measure until the old Royal Victoria Hospital isolation unit is ready to be used.
This stop-gap measure has been put in place after a homeless man who has tested positive for COVID-19 turned up at Montreal's Old Brewery Mission Monday seeking food.
"The police came to find the man, and they did find him in a line outside our men's pavilion," said the mission's executive director, Matthew Pearce, Tuesday.
By Wednesday, however, Pearce said the Ministry of Health had stepped up with more direct support for agencies working with the homeless population.
"We're getting more attention," he said.
"If clients are presenting any symptoms, they will be taken to be tested and then to a hotel that has been secured, so that they can be isolated."
Shelters offered nurses
The director of public health for the Montreal region, Dr. Mylène Drouin, says more resources are also being offered.
"We're putting in place 35 beds at Notre-Dame [Hospital] that are going to be specifically for homeless who need hospitalization," she said.
Public health authorities will also make nurses available for frontline homeless shelters, in order to triage clients who may be displaying symptoms of COVID-19, Pearce said.
"I think it's late, yes, but I don't condemn the health care system," he said. "Like us, they are scrambling to put in place all the measures that are needed."
"That being said, if the virus gets inside the walls of a packed shelter, the spread will be very rapid. Then being able to control it beyond our walls will be tough."
The isolation unit at the Royal Victoria is expected to be up and running sometime this weekend.
Life not as usual at the Old Brewery
Pearce says the COVID-19 pandemic has meant the Old Brewery has had to stop all new admissions.
"Part of the measures we've implemented are ones that I regret having had to do," he said.
"One of the main ones is, we've stopped all new admissions. That means that a Montrealer who finds themselves homeless today has fewer places to go than they would have before the COVID pandemic."
Pearce says staff are also monitoring the clients who often gather outside to ensure physical distancing measures are followed.
"They go around, and if some people are too close, we remind them to separate," he said.
Pearce concedes that trying to enforce distancing within the shelter is nearly impossible.