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Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal closes after COVID-19 outbreak

Coronavirus outbreak: Native Women’s Shelter closes doors due to COVID-19
WATCH: Native Women's Shelter closes doors due to COVID-19

The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal was forced to close its doors on May 14 after half of the shelter’s staff members and some residents contracted COVID-19.

The woman who runs the shelter called the oubreak preventable and is demanding more testing in Montreal’s homeless community. But regional health authorities say the challenge is convincing them to get tested in the first place.

“I’m calling out to Public Health, help us help the shelters, send over that testing bus,” said Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

Coronavirus outbreak: How Laval is grappling with the third highest infection rate in Quebec
Coronavirus outbreak: How Laval is grappling with the third highest infection rate in Quebec

Nakuset said an outbreak at her shelter could have been prevented if public health authorities had responded to her calls for help as soon as a worker tested positive earlier this month.

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Ten residents, including seven women and three children, were moved to a hotel after some tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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The shelter is currently being disinfected and won’t reopen before the end of the month.

“We called Public Health and we said, ‘What do we do?’ and they are like, ‘It’s just one staff, it’s probably not a big deal’, then another staff got sick, then another staff got sick,” said Nakuset, who claims she wasn’t given the personal protective gear and other measures initially promised when she alerted them about her sick staff member.

READ MORE: Toronto homelessness advocates sue city over COVID-19 response

“They had promised to send in additional staff to help us out, then to send in professional cleaners to come in, then to testing all the women at the Native Women’s Shelter and within six hours all that was off the table.”

Nakuset is now spending most of her time working at Resilience Montreal, an organization that helps close to 200 homeless people every day.  Staff members there are also calling for on-site testing since they’ve been working out of Cabot Square since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Staff at Resilience (Montreal) have all been tested, the tests have come back negative and we’re happy about that,” said Resilience Montreal program coordinator David Chapman. “But each day we have to be very cautious we were rubber gloves and masks.”

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Chapman and Nakuset are both calling on Public Health authorities to send mobile testing units to Cabot Square and homeless shelters across the city. But the regional health authority, in this case, said the mobile units are busy touring the city’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods, and that prevention is favoured over testing in the homeless community.

READ MORE: Crowded shelter or $880 fine? Homeless face ‘impossible’ coronavirus choice

“Testing is not a way to protect ourselves right now, testing is being done when people are symptomatic and if they came into contact with a confirmed case,” said Julie Grenier of the CIUSSS du centre-sud-de-l’ile-de-Montreal, adding that the bigger challenge is getting homeless people to respect the two-day confinement in a hotel room following the COVID-19 testing.

“When people are being tested we have a specific hotel where we isolate them for two days, the time it takes to have the results. Not everybody wants to get tested because not everybody wants to be confined.”

Those who test positive are sent to recover at the old Royal Victoria Hospital, where there are currently 16 homeless patients being care for. But without proper testing, many advocates doubt that number is an accurate representation of the situation.

“What does that mean?” asked Nakuset. “Does that mean that other people have it and just haven’t been tested or have the numbers risen? We need actual numbers in order to help this population.”

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