A temporary shelter will open at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre to help support vulnerable populations after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Downtown Mission, forcing the closure of its shelter locations.

In partnership with the City of Windsor, the shelter at the aquatic centre will be fully operational with staffing from a number of local agencies and support from the Canadian Red Cross, the city says.

“We must come together as a community to support those who need help the most during this public health crisis. In 2020, the City of Windsor provided the Downtown Mission with approximately $1 million in emergency funding to support their operations during the ongoing pandemic,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said in a news release. “And when the Health Unit was forced to shut their facility, the City of Windsor mobilized resources quickly to open this temporary emergency shelter at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre. We all need to do our part.”

Medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed issued an outbreak order (Section 29.2) Friday after 17 people consisting of both Downtown Mission guests and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

“Due to the number of cases and the continued risk of transmission I have issued an outbreak order for the Downtown Mission to ensure that all appropriate measures are in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread at the shelter,” Dr. Ahmed said during Monday’s daily briefing.

The order includes keeping the Mission’s 664 and 875 Victoria Avenue locations closed, as well as prohibiting new admissions to the organization’s temporary location at the former Windsor Public Library central branch, current guests are able to stay.

“In respective of any outbreak it doesn’t matter where it happens it is a very demanding, challenging, resource-intensive process to get that under control,” Ahmed said. “On top of that when you’re working with this type of population with many people transient, not at liberty to understand many of the requirements and the needs, and the ability for staff and the facility itself to physically distance and have all those measures in place, it will continue to be a challenge.”

He said outbreaks can occur and spread very quickly in congregate and shelter settings and issued the order to set clear expectations of what to do as well as to offer the additional support that is needed.

“The order allows many other actions that can be triggered to find additional supports in the community, additional agencies coming into support and also look for whatever best measures are available to serve the needs of that population and contain the outbreak,” Ahmed said. 

The Downtown Mission entered into a Collaboration Management Support Agreement with Assisted Living Southwestern Ontario, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Family Services Windsor Essex and Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare (HDGH) for the aquatic centre location.

“I think we are in a better position and we hope that with any additional sites that can provide some of this shelter services will be helpful to contain the outbreak and to support this vulnerable population,” Ahmed said.

The facility will be in use until the health unit determines the Downtown Mission site can reopen safely.