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ONTARIO: Province to spend $255 million to address COVID-19 outbreaks in homeless shelters

Toronto will receive $94.5 million of the funding to prevent outbreaks in its shelters
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TORONTO — Ontario will give municipalities and Indigenous communities $255 million to fight COVID-19 outbreaks in homeless shelters.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said the money can be used to acquire motel and hotel spaces to support physical distancing, hire more shelter staff, and buy more personal protective equipment.

"In order to prevent further outbreaks, we need to act now," Clark said Wednesday. 

"This investment will save lives."

The funds can also be used to purchase cleaning supplies and support rent and utility banks to keep people who are struggling financially from becoming homeless.

Toronto will receive $94.5 million of the funding to prevent outbreaks in its shelters. 

Mayor John Tory said the funding will be added to the more than $663 million the city is spending this year to expand its shelter system and support its homeless residents.

The city has undergone a massive and oft-criticized effort to find housing for the homeless. About 3,200 people have been permanently housed over the past year.

When the pandemic hit last March, hundreds of homeless people fled the city's shelters, most of which are congregate settings, due to fears of contracting the novel coronavirus. Many found refuge in burgeoning encampments in city parks.

The city said it has moved more than 1,300 people from 82 encampments inside. 

Of the roughly 20,000 people who used Toronto's homeless shelter system over the past year, 981 have contracted the virus, and six had died from the disease.

One recent outbreak linked to a COVID-19 variant has ripped through the Maxwell Meighen Centre in downtown Toronto, infecting dozens of people.

As of Monday, 11 Toronto shelters are currently in outbreak with a total of 183 cases of COVID-19 reported. Fifty of those cases are at Maxwell Meighen and 51 are at Seaton House. 

Clark said at the outset of the pandemic, the province asked all shelters to develop outbreak management plans and complete infection, prevention and control education.

The province has asked shelter managers to ensure those plans are updated now that variants of concern are on the rise in Ontario, he said.

Shelter-system residents are currently receiving their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords and Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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