Mike Musgrove says it feels like a year ago that Surrey Urban Mission Society had someone at their shelter who was sick.
“We didn’t have a quarantine room, it was actually my office at the time,” said Musgrove, the executive director for SUMS.
“There was no space and the hospital, they were strict about you had to have certain levels of need before you could go, so we couldn’t get an ambulance to take a sick person out of the shelter because they weren’t sick enough. We had to figure out other plans… It was crazy it seems like a year ago, but it was probably a week ago, said Musgrove outside of the now-defunct North Surrey Recreation Centre which is being used as a temporary “emergency response centre” for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced 900 new spaces at 23 sites, including hotels, motels and community centres throughout B.C., for the vulnerable population to self-isolate.
The North Surrey Rec Centre, which is being operated by SUMS, is one of those spaces that was announced on April 7. It is a 110-bed centre.
The building has been vacant since December, when the rec centre closed its doors for good.
Musgrove said staff will be taking referrals from shelters, or from “people that are non-housed and still living rough,” and the centre will allow people to stay there until they get better.
“Even if they test negative, we will still allow for them to stay here until they get better so they’re not going back and getting a whole shelter of people sick and then we end up with that all ending up in the hospital,” he said, adding that a lot of the at-risk population is immunocompromised or has respiratory issues.
Previously, Musgrove said, SUMS had a quarantine room so that if someone was feeling sick, they would get moved into that room quickly.
He said that because the shelters have been overcrowded, it “puts the shelter guests and the shelter workers at incredible risk, so we need to get folks out of there right away and then in here.”
At the emergency response centre, Musgrove said, if someone has COVID-19, workers will move to “full gear,” which includes gloves, a mask, a gown and goggles.
“If they’re COVID positive, we have a procedure to get them either to another spot in the building temporarily while we work on another place for them to go.”
There are also protocols for coming in and out of the building, he said. Staff will also be having meetings everyday to make sure they’re “doing everything right.”
On Tuesday (April 7), Musgrove said they were ready to take people in.
The first person arrived on Thursday.
The site had cots lined up in one of the arenas, with six made up for potential patients.
“We’re going to slowly build,” Musgrove said.
“People continue to stay healthy, so hopefully that’s working. We continue to maintain our physical distancing and this goes away and we all go back to our normal lives.”
Asked how those numbers could change in the coming days or weeks, Musgrove said, “It’s going to be just like this. We’re prepared for the best, we’re hoping for the best.”
And what could the worst look like?
“The worst is we’re full – both arenas. That would really be the worst — and to not have space. The worst would be if a shelter were to have an outbreak… People don’t have anywhere to go, so a shelter has an outbreak, people aren’t locked into shelters, they walk out of a shelter and then it just becomes a cluster and then a spiderweb. I don’t know what they call it when it really goes out there. That’d be the worst-case scenario. We’re praying that that doesn’t happen.