Representatives from two homeless camps that are currently set up in Edmonton say that the first COVID-19 outbreak at a homeless shelter in the city raises major concerns, especially days before one of them is set to be dismantled.
Alberta Health Services confirmed Wednesday that there are six cases associated with the homeless community in Edmonton. On the provincial outbreak list, the Hope Mission emergency shelter in Edmonton is now listed. AHS said that out of the confirmed cases, one person has recovered but five of the cases are active.
Cameron Noyes, a spokesperson for the Peace Camp in Old Strathcona, said that part of shutdown talks with the city — where they agreed to tear down the camp on Sept. 28 — included suggestions that residents move to Hope Mission.
“We can’t send any of our campers in that direction now,” Noyes said. “I hope the city realizes it changes everything and now sees the value in this camp.
“The Hope Mission outbreak changes absolutely everything we’ve negotiated. I hope the city can come back to the table in good faith.”
Noyes said despite the situation, the Peace Camp still intends to “stick to our deal” and tear down as planned. However, he added that more campers had shown up in Old Strathcona on Wednesday “who would normally go to Hope Mission.”
At the Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale, a much larger site, representatives said they want AHS to work with them to start an immediate testing program.
“We have reached out to AHS,” Shima Robinson, the media liaison for Camp Pekiwewin, said Wednesday. “We are in preliminary talks about having there be testing on-site, screening on site. It’s imperative that happens.”
Robinson said she hopes AHS and city officials recognize the need for fencing around the camp, including a clear entrance and exit to the camp to allow for COVID-19 screening.
“We are currently trying to develop a reasonable, actionable plan around management of the COVID-19 situation,” Robinson said. “That is a completely participatory and co-operative endeavour. We can’t do it alone.
“So as far as we’re aware, we do not have any COVID-19 cases on-site,” she said.
“However, we would like to have more control over whether or not we can [respond] appropriately and safely to the eventuality of there [being] a COVID-19 case on-site.”
A statement from AHS said that it is running contact tracing related to the Hope Mission outbreak and those at risk are being referred to the Edmonton Isolation Facility, a centre run by the city for those exposed to COVID-19 or with symptoms without places to safely stay.
“We are working closely with our community, agency and provincial partners to support the vulnerable population and limit any potential spread,” AHS said in a statement to Global News.
Robinson added that the importance of establishing a COVID-19 plan for Camp Pekiwewin is not going to fade away, as they will not be leaving until those at the camp are provided for by the city. On Wednesday, she said they were also pushing for free transit services.
“We are really endeavouring to make it clear that we are going to be here for the long haul.”
She added that in the coming weeks, amid negotiations with the city, the camp will begin winterizing.
The City of Edmonton directed Global News to AHS when asked for comment on the outbreak on Wednesday.