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Montreal homeless shelters say clients, workers need access to vaccine as COVID-19 cases spike

Montreal homeless shelters say clients, workers need access to vaccine as COVID-19 cases spike
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With the COVID-19 pandemic’s stronghold over Montreal, four organizations devoted to helping those without a home are sounding the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus among clients and workers who help them.

The Old Brewery Mission, Welcome Hall Mission, Maison du Père and Accueil Bonneau are calling on the Quebec government to step in and protect those who live on the street by giving them access to the vaccine.

“We have to do that to prevent further COVID-19 cases in the homeless population as well as to make sure we can increase the capacity of our facilities so we can accommodate everyone, including those who don’t have COVID-19 all the way through winter.”

There have been 96 new cases among homeless Montrealers since the holiday season, according to the group. This is compared to 21 confirmed cases among the same population from March to December 2020.

The organizations maintain homeless people in Montreal and the workers on the front lines who assist them should be added to the priority list for vaccination. As it stands, they say the vaccine is only available to employees from shelters who work at the former Royal Victoria Hospital.

“Vaccination is the first line of defence against a pandemic,” Fiona Crossling, executive director of Accueil Bonneau, said in a statement. “Our staff are doing their best to keep everyone safe, but we’re under tremendous pressure.”

When asked about securing doses for the homeless, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Health Ministry said in an email the vaccination campaign remains “focused” on two priority groups: residents in long-term care homes (CHSLDs) and health-care employees.

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“Work on the details of subsequent prioritization is underway at the ministry,” the spokesperson wrote.

As of Tuesday, Quebec has given a total of 99,510 doses since the campaign got underway last month. Health authorities say no one in the province has so far received a second dose.

Coronavirus: Quebec official discusses amnesty for homeless community, workers during curfew

Coronavirus: Quebec official discusses amnesty for homeless community, workers during curfew

The demand from the organizations comes as most homeless shelters in the city are at capacity, or close to it.

They say their clients are at greater risk of contracting the virus because those places are packed, with little room for physical distancing. Many homeless Montrealers also suffer from medical issues and don’t seek help until they are seriously ill, the group says.

Overcrowding is further compounded by the newly-imposed nightly curfew to limit the spread of COVID-19. With few exceptions, Quebecers must be home from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. every night until Feb. 8.

The curfew — the first of its kind during the pandemic in Canada — also prompted a demonstration Monday night in downtown Montreal, where advocates for vulnerable citizens called for more resources to help those who are homeless or marginalized.
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