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School board wants more communication surrounding planned isolation site for homeless in Cambridge

Board wants more clarity and information about the site
Waterloo Region District School Board (winter)
CityNews file photo

Members of the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) are dismayed at the lack of communication since hearing news last week of a COVID-19 quarantine and isolation site for individuals experiencing homelessness near Coronation Public School.

The quarantine and isolation site will be located at the former Kinsmen Childcare Centre in Cambridge. It will be a place for those experiencing homelessness to isolate if they have COVID-19.

A motion was introduced by WRDSB to write a letter to the Region of Waterloo asking that it provide a detailed safety plan and timelines for parents and community members near surrounding schools.

“We are more than willing to work with our partners in Waterloo Region and the City of Cambridge,” said Waterloo Region District School Board trustee Jayne Herring at a special board meeting held Tuesday night.

“But the communication, or lack of communication, about the site has caused needless anxiety for our families and the community at large. Many of these concerns could have been alleviated had the region and the city engaged in clear and early communication with partners in the community.”

In partnership with Housing Services Waterloo Region and the Cambridge Shelter Corporation, preparations are underway for the isolation site in anticipation of an increase in COVID-19 cases.

A letter was sent to residents in the neighbourhood informing them of the plan for the isolation site.

“From what I’m hearing, renovations have been underway since early December, yet our staff heard about this plan the last week of December. Parents are scrambling and worrying about what’s happening in their community. The opening of the letter is thanking them for welcoming the site into the community, but they didn’t even know about it in the first place,” Herring said.

“That is not the best way to work with a partner. The Region and the Cambridge Shelter Corporation say it’s temporary. I believe it’s a big concern for families that at some point in the future, this could morph into a homeless shelter. I would never endorse a shelter near a school, ever.”

Requests to Housing Services at the Region of Waterloo for more details about the quarantine and isolation site but have not been returned.

WRDSB trustee, Cindy Watson says parents need more details.

“Parents are very concerned. We don’t know how many staff will be there. Will security have the authority to remove someone if they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing? Parents want details, not just assurance,” Watson said.

“This group of parents, they need so much more. They need to know that their concerns have been voiced. And they specifically want to know what is temporary? Is it for the whole year, is it for six months? The least we can do is support this group of parents.”

According to the Cambridge Shelter Corporation, the facility is not an emergency shelter. It will be an isolation space for individuals experiencing homelessness who test positive for COVID-19 and who are waiting for test results. With the closing of the House of Friendship in Kitchener last November, some isolation space was lost.

About 80 men were displaced and 40 per cent of those homeless are seniors. Many are in their 70’s and 80’s and about 70 per cent are vaccinated.

Patients will be from emergency shelters across the region. They will be admitted on a case-by- case basis and will be transported to the site from their existing shelter. There will be facilities that allow them to quarantine and isolate.

The site will include laundry, shower, kitchen, and eating facilities. Classrooms have been modified to accommodate 20-24 beds.

The facility will be monitored by security staff and other medical staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There will be only one point of entrance, the front door, where security will be stationed. All other doors will be locked at all times.

Residents are there for the specific purpose of isolating or quarantining. They will not be allowed free access to entrance and exit from the building. If they choose to leave, they will be transported back to their shelter. No visitors will be allowed.

The site, including the building and land is owned by the Region of Waterloo.

WRDSB superintendent Matt Gerard said that the school board has not had a role in the development or communication of the plan.

“We became aware of it last week as it was being communicated to neighbours and ultimately, that led us to an opportunity to connect with folks from the shelter on Monday. We were able to tour the facility and have some insight as to what would actually be happening,” Gerard said.  

“We are working with the centre to identify periods of time such as recess, when kids will be outside to coordinate efforts.”

Trustee Karen Meissner says it’s worth noting that individuals who are experiencing homelessness and who have tested positive for COVID-19, would be very scared.

“They don’t have a stable home to go to. They rely on partners in the region to be that support system in providing services. They are people too and we need to understand more about their situation as well,” Meissner said.

Watson says that parents she has been hearing from are sympathetic to those who are homeless and those who test positive for COVID-19.

“But the communication was terrible. I wouldn’t call this a partnership. Parents feel that they had no voice, that no one included them, there was no consultation,” Watson said.

“Community members deserve more. They deserve to get detailed answers to their questions. It’s their children that are attending these schools.”

Gerard says both the Region of Waterloo and the Cambridge Shelter Corporation are open to working with the school board.

“Am I happy with this? Absolutely not, but I have to come back to what I’m being told, this is a medical facility and that it not now or never will be a homeless shelter. I have to consider that there are members of my community that are ill and have no where else to go to receive the care that they deserve. I hope this would be available to any of us if we needed it during a pandemic,” Herring said.  

“I have to trust that the region is not misleading anyone. I’m going to trust what I’m being told, and I really hope that I won’t be disappointed.”

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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community
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