OSHAWA — Community organizations who support some of Durham’s most vulnerable residents, including the homeless, are hoping they can keep their doors open as concerns about coronavirus grow.
Robert Brglez is the executive director of Cornerstone Community Association, the organization that runs a men’s shelter in downtown Oshawa.
Cornerstone has taken a number of steps, including sending out a memo to staff on handwashing techniques and sanitizing, including focusing on door handles and other surfaces.
“We’re having clients wash their hands while they’re in line for meals,” he said, adding there are masks available for people with coronavirus symptoms.
“Anybody presenting with symptoms, we would send them to the hospital or the clinic to get checked out,” Brglez said.
However, the shelter cannot accommodate any clients who need to self-isolate.
“We don’t have a capability of isolating anybody, so as we have with every other influenza that blows through, we take certain precautionary measure, but apart from that we ride it out,” said Brglez. “We don’t have a lot of elderly (clients). The elderly we do have who have any medical issues, we put in the hotel program so they’re basically segregated.”
Brglez said placing people through Durham’s hotel program, which provides emergency shelter for people who cannot access shelters — such as people with disabilities or families — may be an option.
He said Cornerstone would keep its doors open unless instructed not to by public health officials, and would call in temporary staff if necessary.
“We wouldn’t close our doors; that would be our last resort. We’d have to consult with medical professionals as to what steps we would have to take,” he said.
Currently there are two positive cases of coronavirus in Durham, both in Ajax impacting residents who had travelled to Iran. There are no cases of community transmission in Durham at this point.
Derek Giberson is the board president for the Back Door Mission, a multi-service drop-in centre located next to Simcoe Street United Church in downtown Oshawa.
The Mission is open on weekdays, except Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Services include free lunches, the distribution of meal tickets for St. Vincent’s Kitchen and other services provided through community partners to a vulnerable population of people with socio-economic challenges.
Giberson said the organization serves between 80 to 120 people per day.
“For a lot of people, it’s their social and community hub; it’s where they meet friends and do a lot of things we all do when we meet a friend for coffee or lunch,” he said.
Giberson said the organization is monitoring the situation right now and taking cues from the Durham Region Health Department.
“We don’t want to cut our clients off from the services and the work the Mission is doing unnecessarily from a sense of panic. It makes more sense to take measured steps in the event that there are measured steps that are recommended from public health,” said Giberson.
“If we cut those services off and it wasn’t necessary, for them that’s a significant impact in terms of the day-to-day needs, whether that’s nutritional or social or mental health; so we don’t want to have an undo effect in a negative way by doing something that we don’t need to do at this point.”
When planning the response to coronavirus, Giberson said it’s important to consider the needs of people who are socio-economically vulnerable.
Should the Mission be forced to close its doors, he said the organization will work to make sure it can still make food and other services available to people who need it.