Moncton homeless shelters ill-equipped to manage coronavirus: executive director

Those who support homeless people in Moncton are trying to prepare to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the city’s vulnerable population, but say they are ill-equipped to support self-isolation.

“It could be more difficult for us,” said Cal Maskery, executive director of the Harvest House Shelter in Moncton.

Maskery says people staying at the Harvest House Shelter are put up in rooms of eight to 10 people and if someone staying at the shelter starts to show symptoms of the virus they are not equipped to follow the Department of Public Health recommendations to self-isolate.

“We can’t do it here, we’ve got too much population,” said Maskery. “Everything is in a common area here.”

Dr. Susan Crouse treats the city’s vulnerable population at the Salvus clinic in Moncton and says the city’s homeless can be more vulnerable to the virus due to pre-existing health issues.

“We are very concerned because they are relatively immune-suppressed because of their poor health problems. A lot of them have respiratory tract illnesses, chronic heart disease, hepatitis C, another infectious disease, so that puts them at higher risk,” she said.

Crouse says when people live and eat in close quarters in shelters they are also at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Maskery says they are taking steps to sanitize the shelter more frequently to help prevent the spread. He said shelter staff are looking to the province for guidance, but there is still no plan is in place should someone require self-isolation.

“We are just trying to be as proactive as we can and keep things as clean as we can,” he said.

Department of Social Development communications officer Jean Bertin stated in an email that “the Department is following the Public Health guidelines in an effort to limit the spread of the virus and promote health and wellness of the residents and staff of the shelters.”

Bertin said the department has asked shelters across the province to promote and display the department of public health preventive measures detailed in a poster placed throughout the shelters.

When asked how it plans to help shelter residents who may become infected follow public health recommendations and self-isolate when they don’t even have a home, Bertin said that is a question for public health.

Late Friday afternoon, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, indicated it was up to the shelters.

“At this moment in time we provide information for organizations to navigate through,” Russell said.

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