Coronavirus: Winnipeg organizations working to support homeless population

Winnipeg organizations are working to support the homeless population amid the COVID-19 pandemic. File / Global News

Organizations serving the homeless population in Winnipeg are working to implement new measures in an effort to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic, specifically among those experiencing homelessness in the city.

Kristiana Clemens, manager of communications and community relations for End Homelessness Winnipeg, says her organization is working to identify priority needs for the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness.

“Individuals experiencing homelessness can face greater risk during a pandemic because they often have complicating health conditions or disabilities in addition to challenges for maintaining social distancing,” said Clemens.

The organization says it’s facilitating a COVID-19 response plan for the homeless population, collaborating with more than five dozen local and regional agencies, including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the City of Winnipeg.

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Some of its main focuses include securing the following:

  • Overflow emergency shelter spaces big enough to accommodate social-distancing measures
  • Individual rooms for quarantine purposes
  • COVID-19 testing near shelters
  • Health and safety supplies such as masks, gloves and sanitizer
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The federal government announced earlier this week that it will provide $157.5 million in funding support for people experiencing homelessness through the Reaching Home program.

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The community-based program is part of Canada’s homelessness strategy, working to prevent and reduce homelessness by providing direct funding and support to designated communities, such as Winnipeg.

“As a community entity responsible for administering Reaching Home funds locally, End Homelessness Winnipeg is hopeful that these resources can soon flow to the priority areas identified by the COVID-19 response,” Clemens said.

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According to Ottawa, the money is expected to be distributed in April.

Clemens said some of her organization’s measures have already rolled out, with adult emergency shelters already working to establish increased capacity through overflow spaces allowing for social distancing.

However, Clemens says other measures are on standby, as End Homelessness Winnipeg requires funding and partnerships to be in place.

“Our community is really pulling together, and day by day, we have reasons to be hopeful that we can collaborate and share resources in a way that will allow us to get ahead of the curve,” Clemens said.

Siloam Mission CEO Jim Bell speaks to donors and media about progress on his shelter’s expansion. Joe Scarpelli/Global News

Siloam Mission CEO Jim Bell told 680 CJOB that maintaining its food and shelter programs while also trying to maintain social-distancing protocols has been tricky.

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“I know at Siloam, what we’re trying to do each and every day as we serve a very vulnerable population is continue to provide these essential services like food and shelter, but you have to pay attention to minimizing the exposure at every point of contact,” he said.

“When you have a transient population… we absolutely everything we can with our staff — either in the kitchen or in the shelter — to pay attention to these essential practices.”

Bell said the biggest fear Siloam and other local shelters have is that they don’t know where their clientele goes after they leave the shelter, leaving a distinct possibility that one or more people could become infected.

“If somebody should be positive with this coronavirus, it’s going to certainly add to the complexity of this.

“We’re doing all we can, together, as an organization, speaking with other organizations, listening to government on a daily basis,” he said.

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