Those working with North Bay's homeless notified of rising COVID-19 cases

According to HOPE’s Outreach, a group of volunteers who are running operations at tent city on Third Avenue West and Ferguson St., the COVID-19 case count amongst those experiencing homelessness in North Bay is starting to spiral out of control. June 30/21 (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

The COVID-19 case count amongst those experiencing homelessness in North Bay is starting to spiral out of control. That is according to HOPE’s Outreach, a group of volunteers who are running operations at tent city on Third Avenue West and Ferguson St.

They say the health unit has asked them to keep tent city open to contain the spread of the virus, but they have no intention of doing so as fights and overdoses are occurring there.

“We’re a little bit in over our heads. We’re a small group of volunteers and we never expected the numbers up here that we got,” said HOPE’s Outreach co-founder Katie Valiquette

Despite the health unit’s best efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless population up at the tent city, volunteers say they will have no choice but to shut it down Thursday.

“A year and a half ago we saw the need to help,” said HOPE’s Outreach co-founder Chris Brown.

At one time, Valiquette and Brown say there were 75 people on the small piece of private property. Fights, overdoses, rising costs, and lack of support were the final straw.

The pair were notified by health unit staff there are “several” COVID-19 cases spread amongst the homeless population.

The homeless population is now being turned away at the low-barrier shelter in fear of spreading the virus.

“When I mentioned to the health unit yesterday that a lot of these people share tents, drinks, cigarettes and share food, they basically kind of shrugged it off,” said Valiquette.

The health unit did not reveal details in a Wednesday morning media conference instead opting to explain why it did not declare an outbreak for the under housed population.

“The health unit perceived there was an increase in stigma in declaring an outbreak,” said Dr. Carol Zimbalatti, the health unit’s public health physician. “Cases were scattered throughout the community, making declaring an outbreak very difficult.”

The health unit did confirm if mobile testing, vaccination, or self-isolation centres are set up for those with no fixed address and there is certainly a need for more.

“For the safety of the individuals, we will not be disclosing any of the locations,” said the health unit’s Director of Community Services Louise Gagné. “It’s challenging to find locations that meet all of the requirements.”

The team at HOPE’s Outreach has laid out strict rules for those staying at the tent city until Thursday evening. Everyone must stay in their own tent and if someone chooses to leave, they must not come back. Only outreach workers are allowed to visit.

“We have quarantined off the hill and there’s no visitors up here because we don’t want the spread of COVID-19,” said Brown.

Brown has brought on extra security so no visitors can enter or leave the premises. The health unit will not confirm how many COVID-19 cases are linked to the under housed and homeless population.