Saskatoon homeless test site first step to halt 'catastrophic' outcome


A COVID-19 testing facility for Saskatoon’s homeless and vulnerable people represents part of the strategy to prevent a “catastrophic” outbreak, an official with the city’s community response group says.

Colleen Christopherson-Cote, incident commander with the Saskatoon COVID-19 community response — vulnerable sector strategy, confirmed Wednesday that a dedicated site has been established in the Riversdale neighbourhood.

Christopherson-Cote said homeless and other vulnerable people can get tested at the site without a referral from a doctor.

“This is great news,” she said in an interview. The community response group has combined the efforts of dozens of non-governmental agencies in Saskatoon.

She added that access to testing is only one part of the strategy, as there needs to be a plan for self-isolation in case someone tests positive.

Hotel rooms could be one option, but Christopherson-Cote said she’s not aware of anyone who has tested positive and needed housing for 14 days. People with symptoms or who test positive cannot be housed in shelters to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

About 30 people with symptoms were turned away last week from the city’s two homeless hubs for people seeking services at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge in Riversdale and the Salvation Army Temple in Greystone Heights, she said.

“There’s cracks the community is trying to fill and we’re working alongside the province to fill those cracks.”

Christopherson-Cote said people who rely on friends and family for shelter may have had doors closed to them because they’re displaying symptoms of COVID-19, which include coughing.

“There’s a cohort of people that we don’t even know how big it is who are couch surfers,” she said. “It’s tremendously complex, the system. It’s frustrating at times.”

An outbreak among people without stable housing could be “catastrophic,” she added.

Many are older than 55 and have compromised immune systems and existing health struggles, Christopherson-Cote said.

Saskatchewan Health Authority spokeswoman Amanda Purcell suggested in an email on Wednesday that the province will open more sites like the one in Riversdale.

“As part of its plans to manage COVID-19, Saskatchewan Health Authority is and will be establishing different types of health care centres in spaces in many Saskatchewan communities that have not been traditionally used for this purpose,” Purcell wrote.