UPDATE January 21, 2022: Peterborough Public Health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at the YES Shelter over on Thursday and it is once again accepting new clients, according to executive director Aimée Le Lagadec. As of Friday, there are some youth beds available, but all family spaces are currently full.
Peterborough’s YES Shelter for Youth and Families has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak since last week, according to executive director Aimée Le Lagadec.
There have been four confirmed or suspected cases within the shelter and YES’s transitional housing units.
Le Lagadec expects the outbreak to be declared over by the end of this week, once all the affected clients finish the required isolation period.
The City has provided motel rooms for people in the shelter system affected by COVID-19 to isolate.
YES is one of three Peterborough homeless shelters that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks during the current Omicron-fueled pandemic wave.
Community services commissioner Sheldon Laidman briefed council on the situation at Monday’s virtual general committee meeting, but he did not say which shelters were affected “because it involves people’s individual medical information.”
There have been between 10 and 20 shelter users in isolation per day over the last two weeks, Laidman said.
“Meals have been provided as well as basic necessities to ensure those persons can stay isolated,” Laidman said.
“Last week was the first time that we’ve had a positive case in any of our programs,” Le Lagadec said. “So it was a steep learning curve, but we’re feeling like we’re on top of it as much as we can be.”
It has been challenging for some clients to isolate, she said.
“People just don’t want to go,” she said. “Given their mental health and addictions, it’s … just really hard for them to isolate and stay away from each other.”
“They are concerned that they’re going to be far away from the downtown core where a lot of their supports are, a lot of their community is,” she said. “I think there’s a big fear of being alone for 10 days, not having anything to do.”
Shelter not accepting new clients until outbreak over; but City says it’s accommodating all in need
YES has had to close its doors to new clients until the outbreak is over, Le Lagadec said.
But staff have helped everyone who’s come to their door find other accommodations, whether it’s with family members, friends or community members, she said.
Staff can cover cab or bus fare so people can get to a warm bed at a friend or family member’s home. They can also help pay for groceries. “Sometimes that’s an issue – the person they’re going to just doesn’t have enough food,” Le Lagadec said.
During Monday’s general committee meeting, Mayor Diane Therrien said she’s been hearing concerns about people being turned away from shelters since the outbreaks began. That’s not the case, she said.
“I think it is important to highlight that people aren’t going to be turned away, especially when we have these severe cold weather alerts and weather emergencies,” she said.
When a shelter cannot admit new clients due to an outbreak, the City can put people up in a motel room, said social services program manager Dorothy Olver.
As COVID-19 cases rose last week, City staff worried they would run out of isolation spaces for people in the shelter system who tested positive for COVID-19 or showed symptoms, according to Olver. “As it turned out, we had enough [space], but we secured another location, just to make sure,” she said.
So far, COVID-19 has not caused significant staff absences that could strain shelter services, Le Lagadec said. But she is worried about burnout among staff.
With many services in the community having paused or shifted online during the pandemic, it has become harder for clients to access needed supports, such as addiction counselling, psychiatric care and Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Some clients can’t attend virtual appointments because they don’t have phones or Internet access, she said.
As a result, YES staff have had to work longer hours to try to support clients. “You know, having those long conversations with clients when they have no one else to talk to,” she said.