Collaborative, System-wide Response to Support Persons Experiencing Homelessness

The City of Windsor, St. Clair College, emergency shelter providers and community partners have collaborated to meet the needs of persons experiencing homelessness under demanding circumstances.

The emergency shelter system, like many sectors in the community, has been significantly impacted by the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The Downtown Mission, Salvation Army Centre of Hope, and Welcome Centre Shelter for Women and Families have all experienced outbreaks amongst staff and clients over the past few weeks due to the latest strain. Mission staff were particularly impacted by this latest wave; however, they quickly prioritized services to preserve capacity in their overnight shelter program. The emergency shelter providers, with support from the City and community partners, continue to rally together to support persons experiencing homelessness.

“Crisis situations demand immediate action,” says Jelena Payne, City of Windsor Commissioner of Human and Health Services. “We applaud the Mission’s board of directors and their staff for making the difficult decision to temporarily alter their regular programming to preserve their capacity to shelter overnight guests, particularly during this period of frigid temperatures.”

St. Clair College has also responded to this latest crisis. Staff of the college are providing the meals for Downtown Mission guests in the interim to allow Mission staff to focus on overnight shelter operations, pending the return of staff from isolation.

"This pandemic won't be over until it is over; and until that day comes, St. Clair will be hand-in-hand with the community to address the difficulties created by COVID," said St. Clair College President Patti France. "From lending beds, ventilators, and other medical equipment to the hospitals from our Centre for Applied Health Sciences, to housing field hospitals in our athletic facilities, to – now – providing food services to the Mission, local citizens and agencies need only ask for St. Clair's help during the pandemic." France also praised the culinary and delivery staff of the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts for their role in this latest instance of the college's COVID response. "This wasn't so much a case of one institution helping another institution," she noted. "It was very much people helping people, neighbours helping neighbours, in time of need. It is an example of the Saint spirit exemplified by all of the College's employees."

The City of Windsor and the Welcome Centre for Women and Families continue to operate an isolation and recovery centre for persons experiencing homelessness. The City of Windsor has also provided additional supports to all three shelters to mitigate the risk of COVID to guests and staff. Additional assistance for cleaning, implementation of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures, personal protective equipment (PPE), and security staffing has been provided, and the Homelessness and Housing Help Hub (H4) Day Program continues to provide housing search assistance and other supports. Further, the City has opened a temporary warming centre at the downtown aquatic centre to relieve pressure on the existing day programs by providing an alternative space for people to get out of the cold.

“The coldest nights of winter impact the capacity of emergency shelters annually. The falling temperatures, coupled with the effect of Omicron on our staffing levels, posed a significant risk to our ability to serve guests,” says Rukshini Ponniah-Goulin, Interim Executive Director of the Downtown Mission. “The support of our board and partners, the City, and the generous donation from St. Clair College, have allowed our staff to focus on preserving the shelter bed program for those wanting a safe place in from the cold.”

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