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Kingston Response Group: Update on vulnerable population, COVID-19

A number of those without shelters to call home have opted to stay inside tents and other makeshift structures, such as the one pictured here, in the parks and wooded areas throughout Kingston, as the city weathers the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent rising cases of the virus, and the weather continues to get colder. Photo by Toby Wong.

One week ago, the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) acted as host, bringing together members of the local media, and representatives from those agencies and organizations currently working together to address the issues facing Kingston’s unhoused and vulnerable populations around colder weather, COVID-19, and service provision.

According to an email to all local media with a letter attached to those parties on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021 – which also invited the media to a meeting over Zoom the following day – the purpose of the two initiatives (the letter and the Zoom meeting) was to “discuss our community response in greater detail,” and “to address the recent coverage of individuals who are vulnerable experiencing COVID-19.”

“There seems to be some confusion around what is being done to support the most vulnerable in our community. This confusion causes misconceptions community-wide that affect the trust in our community partners, and we really want to use our limited time and resources working collectively on solutions and not responding to misinformation,” that email read.

The United Way explained, through the email, letter, and subsequent meeting, that a number of organizations and agencies had been working together – with representatives meeting weekly – since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed among the clients of the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) at the end of October, 2021.

(Editorial note: The organizations referred to above have asserted that the COVID-19 outbreak impacting the clients of the ICH was not, in fact, an outbreak at the ICH, but rather an outbreak amongst those who frequently use the ICH. However, those organizations also confirmed that, when that outbreak began, it was thought at the time to have been at outbreak at the ICH. Moving forward, Kingstonist will refer to that COVID-19 outbreak as an outbreak among the clients of the ICH.)

Those organizations and agencies are: Addiction and Mental Health Services KFL&A, the City of Kingston, HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS), the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), KFL&A Public Health, Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC), Kingston Fire and Rescue, Kingston Home Base Housing, Kingston Police, Kingston Youth Shelter, Lionhearts Inc., and the United Way of KFL&A. The group of representatives of the organizations listed above is called the “Kingston Response Group.”

Members of the media present at the meeting requested access to those weekly meetings to allow for more clarity on the situation. While the organizations and agencies involved agreed that too many topics that could divulge personal details of members of the public (particularly those within vulnerable populations) are discussed at the meetings, and therefore it would not be appropriate for the media to attend. The did, however, agree to provide a weekly update on both the items discussed at their weekly meeting, and on the situation in general.

Today, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, that update was provided to the media via the United Way of KFL&A.

The Kingston Response Group indicated the group was set up “to bring together community service providers and partners to strengthen and mobilize resources to assist and identify needs on a daily basis, and to support programs and services to protect the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.” The group indicated they will provide an update on the work being done in this sense on a weekly basis to the media.

The Kingston Response Group said that there are currently no active outbreaks within the vulnerable sector, and that mobile testing and screening protocols continue.

“Our community partners continue to work collaboratively to limit exposure in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation continues to be monitored along with ongoing efforts from all involved to keep people safe and protected,” said Bhavana Varma, Executive Director of the United Way of KFL&A.

Meanwhile, according to KFL&A Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, the outbreak among clients of the ICH remains active, with three of the 50 cases involved in that outbreak still active. The reason for the discrepancy between the two remains unclear.

The Group also relayed that, while COVID-19 cases are rising in Kingston and the KFL&A region in general, “cases remain stable among the vulnerable sector.” As such, the trailers that were put in place behind the ICH for individuals to isolate in after testing positive for the virus are currently not being used, and the Kingston Response Group is “evaluating opportunities to repurpose these units,” they said.

“The Response Group is in communication with partners experiencing outbreaks and agencies are working to assist in any way they can.”

Active call for volunteers and donations

There are two ways residents can help out with the efforts of the Kingston Response Group, they indicated: volunteering through KFL&A Public Health, or donating used cell phones and/or chargers through the Group.

Cellphone and cellphone charger donations

Service providers are in need of used, unlocked cellphones and chargers (which can be new or used) for community members in vulnerable situations, the Response Group said. Phones and chargers can be dropped off at:

  • The United Way of KFL&A, located at 417 Bagot Street (back entrance) and open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Kingston Fire and Rescue, located at 500 O’Connor Drive and open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Volunteers needed

KFL&A Public Health is looking for volunteers at clinics for roles such as screener, list checker, runner, and clinic assistants, the Kingston Response Group said, noting that those wanting to volunteer must:

  • Be fully vaccinated and able to provide proof of vaccination
  • Have a CPIC Vulnerable Sector check within the past six months
  • Sign a confidentiality form to protect the health privacy of all individuals

“Employees serving the most vulnerable populations have been working extremely hard, and most are exhausted and burnt out as the workload continues to grow to keep people safe. The response team is working with agencies to identify ways to engage volunteers where possible,” Varma expressed. 

“We appreciate all those who have stepped up and look forward to seeing more volunteers as we find innovative ways to utilize their support.”

Ted Hsu for MPP
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