City of Windsor Invests to Protect the Health of All Residents

Two long days of COVID-19 testing for persons experiencing homelessness in Windsor show efforts to care for those most vulnerable are paying off. For the 172 tests administered, 70% of the results have come back and all have been negative for the Coronavirus.

Anticipating the eventual arrival of COVID-19 in Windsor and Essex County and its potentially devastating impact on vulnerable populations in particular, City Administration worked closely with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) and emergency shelter providers to adhere to public health directives to protect the health of shelter guests. 

Information shared regarding the experience of other communities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been that between 30-40% of persons experiencing homelessness had tested positive for the virus.

To protect all residents in Windsor and Essex County and help limit the spread of COVID-19, the City has invested in:

  • Two Isolation and Recovery Centres (IRC) to provide individuals experiencing homelessness who present with symptoms the opportunity to self-isolate pending a negative test result or recovery from illness
  • Supporting these IRC’s with staff from the City of Windsor, in partnership with the Windsor Essex County Health Unit, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Health Care, Windsor Essex Community Health Centre, Welcome Centre Shelter for Women & Families and Feeding Windsor
  • Establishing a medical team to provide supports to individuals who need to self isolate

Shelter providers proved extremely nimble to creatively meet the challenge of providing service to persons experiencing homelessness and adhere to public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. The City assisted with funding, and shelters adjusted operations to ensure physical distancing, provide flexibility for meal service, ensure access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and address the increased requirements for staffing, security and cleaning/disinfection to meet public health guidelines

The City of Windsor’s Employment and Training Services department has been actively working to ensure shelters and other employers have the staff required to address service delivery. City staff have been redeployed across the community to address volunteer shortages and provide additional programming, such as the City’s own day program at Windsor Water World. Open daily from 9am to 7pm, the program provides persons experiencing homelessness an alternative option to ensure physical distancing and access to community supports.

On April 10, the provincial government announced that proactive testing would begin for several priority groups, including those in congregate living centres, such as long term care homes and homeless shelters. 

In addition to enhanced testing for residents in long term care, the health unit worked with the City of Windsor and shelter providers to test individuals experiencing homelessness who utilize the shelter system. On May 7 and 8, the WECHU partnered with the City of Windsor, the Windsor-Essex Community Health Centre (weCHC), leaders of the local emergency shelters, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and Essex Windsor EMS to provide health screening, medical assessment and testing of individuals experiencing homelessness. All partners are encouraged by the negative test results that have been returned to date.

“While testing for COVID-19 only represents one point in time, mass testing among our homeless population was important to give us a sense of the current impact of COVID-19 within this vulnerable group. Our team at the WECHU, led by our CEO Theresa Marentette have worked closely with the City of Windsor, our health care partners and emergency shelters for the past few months. What this has told us is that our collective efforts to ensure the health and safety of individuals experiencing homelessness are working well and I feel assured that as we move forward we have the right systems, processes and partnerships in place to continue to protect this group and limit the spread of COVID-1,” said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, Medical Officer of Health.

“The number of negative results returned is a true testament to the swift response, added supports and dedicated efforts of City administration, the health unit and especially the shelter providers and their staff,” said Jelena Payne, Commissioner of Community Development and Health Services. “Where other sectors are beginning to stabilize, sectors that provide direct basic supports such as food and shelter are continuing their around-the-clock efforts to help keep people safe.”

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