City leases uOttawa dorm to house vulnerable people amid coronavirus pandemic

An exterior sign at uOttawa.
An exterior sign at uOttawa. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

The City of Ottawa says it has leased an unused dorm belonging to the University of Ottawa to use as “an isolation space” for families in the homelessness service system at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

The university announced the partnership Sunday evening in a brief news release, saying the apartments in a three-storey residence downtown had been cleaned and prepared so the families could move in as of Monday.

However, in a memo to council provided to media on Monday, city staff noted that while the building is officially available to them now, they don’t anticipate having it furnished or having staffing and food and laundry services finalized until the end of the week.

University and College residences could be used for front line health-care workers and COVID-19 patients
University and College residences could be used for front line health-care workers and COVID-19 patients

Shelley VanBuskirk, the city’s director of housing services, said the facility — which the municipality has leased for a nominal $1 — is for families within the homelessness service system or the violence against women sector who need to self-isolate as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, who have symptoms of the COVID-19 or who have tested positive for the illness.

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The building is no longer used as a student residence by uOttawa because it’s not an accessible building, according to the VanBuskirk.

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The dorm has 28 units ranging from one to four bedroom and those units will be equipped with fridges, microwaves, crockpots and other cooking utensils, she said. The city will also coordinate food services for the temporary residents while they self-isolate, according to the memo.

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Until the units are ready, the city has secured additional spaces for at-risk families to stay in but says it won’t disclose the locations because it assists people fleeing violence.

On Monday, Ottawa’s public health unit said there are 130 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city, including two outbreaks at separate retirement homes.