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Calgary shelters struggle to maintain coronavirus health measures

Organizations that look after Calgary’s most vulnerable are worried that their methods for keeping the novel coronavirus away from populated shelters will not be sustainable.

John Rook, Managing Director (Calgary) and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Mustard Seed said that the issue of social distancing cannot be addressed unless they reduced the number of beds.

At the Mustard Seed in the Foothills Industrial area, there were 346 of 370 beds were filled on Sunday.

Food resources the Mustard Seed has been using, such as the Calgary Food Bank and private citizen contributions, aren’t an option, said Rook.

“We can’t assess the [foods] safety. [Food donations] could inadvertently make the situation worse,” he said.

Now, the Mustard Seed is tapping into their own revenue in cases where they wouldn’t have before COVID-19 appeared in Calgary, Rook said, adding that they can only rely on one supplier of food to ensure there’s as little chance of contamination as possible.

“If the government doesn’t act fast enough in a crisis like this, we could get really stuck,” he said.

‘I was shocked when I saw a guy wiping down the printer…’

There has been an “almost overkill” of cleaning done to the Mustard Seed shelter facility as a precaution to keep COVID-19 from circulating housing shelters.

“People aren’t just cleaning the doorknobs, they’re cleaning the door frames, too,” he said.

“I was shocked when I saw a guy wiping down the printer.”

However, Rook explained that plans with the City of Calgary and CEMA are being looked at to relocate people from shelters, like the Mustard Seed, hotels for the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis in Calgary.

Rook suggested that if they have to use hotels, it would be best to send people who aren’t infected so that they limit the risk of spreading the virus.

Alpha House laying mats head to toe

Alpha House, a shelter and detox facility, is another organization looking at putting their clients in other locations if cases of COVID-19 were to appear in their shelter, said Kathy Christiansen, executive director of Alpha House.

With 120 sleeping mats, which now are always occupied in their shelter, and 42 beds upstairs in the detox area of Alpha house, Christiansen said they don’t have the capacity for two metres of social distancing.

“Instead we’re laying our clients on our mats head-to-foot,” she said.

As for other measures mitigating the COVID-19 inside Alpha House, Christiansen said clients who enter have their temperature checked and are assessed for a cough by community paramedics or nurses and doctors at Alpha House. They’re quarantined if they are deemed sick until a client can be fully tested.

“We are now exploring rapid testing right now, where clients can be checked for the virus [at Alpha House],” said Christiansen.

“We know that we have our limits, and we will need external support from the Calgary and Alberta government.”

Alpha House has already purchased care-packages for clients who are supervised by Alpha House, but are living in five other housing complexes within Calgary communities and might need to self-isolate.

“It’s been hard to find supplies right now. We have enough right now, but this will be a long-term issue, and we need to make sure we’ll be supported.”

If Alpha House begins to see positive cases of COVID-19, Alpha House will need more quarantine spaces with washrooms and sleeping spaces, more sources of food, and more supplies for PPE and medicine, said Christiansen.