Homeless shelters undergo major changes due to COVID-19


By Charlie Owens

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on homeless shelters, emergency housing services and the people who depend on them.

According to Katie Maas, residential services manager of Nova Vita, an emergency shelter for victims of domestic abuse, the perceived risk of contracting COVID-19 in a shelter setting has kept some people from seeking the help they need.

“I’m finding that people are trying to make it work, stay in the relationship a bit longer or stay in the precarious housing situation they’re in because they might feel like they have to pick between staying in a bad situation or going into a shelter and risking exposure to COVID,” said Maas. “We’re definitely seeing higher levels of abuse happening out there. People are getting hurt more frequently and more severely than, say, a year ago.”

Those who are willing to seek help from a shelter such as Nova Vita find that getting the help they need may be more difficult than it was pre-pandemic.

According to Maas, many shelters such as Nova Vita can’t accept as many residents as they did before the pandemic due to social distancing restrictions. This has led to more people being forced to find safe alternatives to the shelter, which is often not easy.

According to Tim Philp, executive director of the Rosewood House homeless shelter, things aren’t getting any easier for the owners and operators of the shelters, either.

Philp said the shelter has spent tens of thousands of dollars on protective gear for both staff and residents, including masks, goggles and gowns. Other major changes that have been put in place include mandatory COVID-19 screening tests for anyone entering the building and serving meals in shifts to make sure the dining room always has space for social distancing.

While the new rules related to COVID-19 do pose significant restrictions, according to Philp, they are effective.

“To my knowledge, in Brantford, we’ve never had a case of COVID-19 in the shelter system that was transmitted in the shelter system,” said Philp. “There’s never been a case of COVID spreading, and I think that’s a tribute to all the precautions that have been taken.”



This is in stark contrast to figures coming out of certain parts of the United States. An investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Association discovered that, in homeless shelters where two or more known cases of COVID-19 were present, up to 66 per cent of residents tested positive for the virus, along with up to 30 per cent of staff.

Despite everything, Maas wants people to know these services are still here, still operational and still ready and willing to take new clients.

“That’s a message I’d like to make very clear. We are still operating, we have been the whole time. We welcome people to walk up to the door if they need to, that’s allowed, it’s OK, we’ll still provide service regardless,” said Maas.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, the Nova Vita 24-hour crisis line can be reached at 519-752-HELP (4357). You can also reach Nova Vita at 519-754-5332. The Brantford Nova Vita location is at 59 North Park Street. If you are currently dealing with homelessness, Rosewood House can be reached at 519-750-1547.