Inside Shepherds of Good Hope during COVID-19

By: Stephen Bartolo – Published in the Lowertown Echo

I started working at Shepherds of Good Hope almost 20 years ago as a frontline staff member. Over my 20 years, we’ve weathered many crises, most recently major shelter overcrowding and the opioid crisis. And throughout all of them there are two things that never fail to amaze me about Shepherds of Good Hope: the innovation and the people.

The novel coronavirus pandemic took us all by storm: in an incredibly short period of time, our lives have been changed fundamentally. With this virus, the prevailing public- health wisdom is “Stay home. Stay safe.” But the stark reality is that there are many people in our community who don’t have a home in which to self-isolate and rely on Shepherds of Good Hope’s emergency shelter programs.

Others are vulnerably housed and rely on us for meals and social supports, while over 200 individuals with complex mental health, physical health and addictions issues live in our supportive-housing programs across the city.

When the novel coronavirus first hit Ottawa in March, we knew we had to act quickly to protect our vulnerable clients and residents. We drastically changed the way all of our programs and services operated, still trying to ensure our clients had the support they needed at this difficult time. Shepherds of Good Hope looks very different these days, not
just from when I started, but even compared to three months ago.

On May 14th, eight weeks into the pandemic, Shepherds of Good Hope was notified of its first positive COVID case from someone who had previously stayed at our shelter. Alongside our health care partners, we rapidly conducted testing for everyone staying or working in our shelter programs, nearly 300 people in total. Results showed there were five confirmed cases; most were asymptomatic and all came from the same unit. All the individuals and their roommates were sent to the Routhier Isolation Centre. All of the other tests came back negative, including all staff.

Again, our organization’s innovation and our people continue to amaze me when we are hit with difficult times. Shepherds of Good Hope staff were able to prevent COVID-19 from entering our shelter for over eight weeks, and when it did, the outbreak was quickly contained. This is a testament to the extensive procedures we had put in place from the beginning with our healthcare partners. We were able to rapidly isolate the individuals who tested positive, lock down the unit and conduct widespread testing. I am so proud of our team.

We are grateful to be part of such a caring community who continue to support Shepherds of Good Hope, even as many people go through their own challenges. We have businesses and community members donating and preparing food, sewing gowns and masks, donating supplies, volunteering and sending messages of support. We also received $320,000 from the City of Ottawa as a part of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief fund to support with our significant unbudgeted staffing and supply costs.

Our biggest need continues to be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as we expect it will be for some time. We need to supply approximately 100 staff each day with an average of two masks, one gown and three pairs of gloves each per shift. These numbers fluctuate depending on the level of client care needed. Our total PPE cost is coming in at approximately $340 per day, so any in-kind donations of PPE or financial contributions help us a great deal.

We know the pandemic is not over, and our clients continue to be among our community’s most vulnerable. The lack of physical distancing in our overcrowded shelter continues to be a primary concern, as we work with the City of Ottawa to refer clients to other temporary accommodations. We know we need more permanent affordable and supportive housing in our City, and hope you will continue to work with us around this issue.

I want to say a special thank you to our Lowertown community, who have stayed by our side during these tough times. You are the heroes keeping our spirits up and helping to keep us protected at Shepherds of Good Hope 24 hours a day, 7 days
a week.

Stephen Bartolo is the Vice President of Shepherds of Good Hope.

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Homes for all. Community for all. Hope for all.