COVID-19 a challenge for residents of homeless shelters in the Okanagan, Kamloops - InfoNews

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COVID-19 a challenge for residents of homeless shelters in the Okanagan, Kamloops

March 18, 2020 - 7:00 AM

How do you self-isolate if you show COVID-19 symptoms while living in a homeless dorm?

That depends on what shelter you're living at in the Okanagan or Kamloops.

“B.C. Housing has sent out a protocol,” Randy Benson, executive director of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission, told “If anybody does show symptoms, we will give them a mask and ask them to visit Interior Health and take it from there.”

But there is no room in that shelter for residents to isolate themselves if they have symptoms.

The picture's is a bit clearer at the Emerald Hostel in Kamloops.

“If we feel a resident is showing signs of illness similar to COVID-19, then we'll quarantine them," Alfred Achoba, acting operations leader for the hostel, said. “If we feel a resident is showing signs of illness similar to COVID-19, then we'll quarantine them. We have access to spaces in the building to quarantine anyone who shows symptoms.”

The two gender-based quarantine areas would allow a private space for individuals to stay away from others, and Achoba said there are other areas of the building that can also be used if needed.

The Gospel Mission has about 85 people currently staying there in bunk beds, mostly in a large dorm for men. If some find other places to live, it’s unlikely others will be allowed to move in so there is a better chance to separate people. Some barriers may also be erected, Benson said.

As well as providing space for people to sleep, the Mission also serves meals to homeless and others in need.

Starting tomorrow, they will stop allowing non-registered residents to enter the building.

Instead, they will offer bagged lunches. They are also working with the Salvation Army which has a food truck to provide dinners. The Mission will prepare the food and the Salvation Army will then deliver it to an as-yet unspecified location, Benson said.

What will also be lost to those not staying at the Mission will be access to washroom facilities.

For those who are registered, there is a hand washing station at the entrance where everyone will be required to wash their hands. There are also hand sanitizers and increased cleaning.

Dining room tables will be spaced apart and only four chairs provided for each table in order to increase social distance.

The Mission’s thrift store and dental practice are also closed.

Although Emerald Hostel usually runs at capacity, Achoba isn’t too worried about the provincial advisory against gatherings of more than 50 people because the service is essential in keeping people off the streets.

“We feel that 55 people, which is more than what has been described, won't really affect us since we are considered an essential service and we don't want to turn away anyone. The hope is to be able to manage with the number we have.”

About 20 to 30 percent of the people using the service are seniors.

Upon entry to the shelter, staff and residents are encouraged to wash their hands to prevent spread of the virus to the at-risk population.

“We’re taking a proactive approach from early on, we've increased our cleaning schedule, especially our public areas where we have residents frequenting," Achoba said.

— With files from Jenna Wheeler.

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