City and health unit order Downtown Mission to remain closed
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Downtown Mission says it will be defying orders from the Windsor Essex County Health Unit and the City of Windsor to close a reopened shelter location until a plan to accommodate “all people seeking emergency shelter” is in place.
A news release issued by the city Tuesday says the Downtown Mission operators shared in a letter to local media they planned to reopen a temporary shelter at the former Windsor Public Library at 850 Ouellette Avenue, which the WECHU and city have since issued orders to discontinue its use.
“Opening another facility for those that disagree with established COVID-19 protocols dilutes the available community resources to deal with this issue and is counterproductive to the paramount goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community,” the release said.
Andrew Teliszewsky, chief of staff of the mayor’s office says there was concern over whether or not COVID-19 protocols were being met at the temporary shelter.
A COVID-19 outbreak was declared last month at the Mission's Victoria Avenue location.
"We’ll have to ask ourselves why the Salvation Army was able to continue operating during a declared outbreak and why the Windsor Essex County Health Unit shut down the Mission,” Teliszewsky said.
The WECHU issued the initial outbreak order (Section 29.2) for the Downtown Mission to restrict access to its shelter locations on Friday Feb. 19. The order included keeping the Mission’s 664 and 875 Victoria Avenue locations closed, as well as prohibiting new admissions to the organization’s temporary location.
The City of Windsor said it has temporarily expanded its isolation and recovery spaced in a second motel and the existing isolation and recovery centre remains open. The Salvation Army has increased their shelter bed capacity by 25 for a total of 51 beds. The Welcome Centre also continues to support the Isolation and Recovery Centre operations as well as accommodate women and families.
"We continue to work with all of our social service partners to create the conditions possible for the health unit to feel comfortable reopening or allowing the Mission to reopen at Victoria avenue site," Teliszewsky said.
In a written statement, Downtown Mission executive director Rev. Ron Dunn said the Mission made the decision to reopen the shelter on Ouellette Ave. “based on real numbers provided by staff working at the Aquatic Centre on Saturday and Sunday nights.”
Dunn said 16 people were refused entry to the Temporary Emergency Shelter at the Aquatic Centre (TESAC) Saturday and were not offered space into the city’s isolation and recovery centres. He said the number grew to “an alarming” 35 by Sunday evening.
“One person left outside based on a city organized outbreak plan should outrage everyone,” he said.
Teliszewsky said there is "no lack of capacity" at either the TESAC or the or at the city administered isolation and recovery centre motel.
Dunn said the Mission strives to house all who enter, and the nature of an emergency shelter is “just that.”
“Someone can become homeless in an instant based on many factors, family breakdown, mental health issues etc.…. To simply say that there is NO emergency shelter is an irresponsible response to a very real ongoing problem,” the statement said.
Dunn said the health unit order issued last Friday states the Mission is not to accept any new admissions from guests who present post-outbreak on Feb. 11. He said they asked the city to offer isolation of those who need it, but were told by both the WECHU and city there were no additional spaces available.
“The Mission will continue to defy the order issued by the City of Windsor to vacate 850 Ouellette until a plan is in place that to accommodate ALL people seeking emergency shelter in real time,” Dunn said. “We have submitted a document to the WECHU this afternoon which we feel based on on-site visits addresses its concerns and will allow the reopening of both our 664 Victoria and 875 Ouellette locations safely and in compliance with the Health Unit.”
The Mission said it is not their desire to work outside the system and the document submitted reflects caped numbers for entry, IPAC protocols and an isolation strategy and is willing to move out of the former library branch when the order is lifted or revised.
Dunn said he has been in “constant contact” with the health unit and believes any remaining concerns can be resolved.
- With files from CTV Windsor's Angelo Aversa