Winter centers in the center are struggling to meet demand as staff absenteeism increases

Winter centers in the center are struggling to meet demand as staff absenteeism increases

With colder weather on the way, hundreds already seeking meals and the beds full every night, the city center of winter centers is struggling with a shortage of staff and volunteers due to Omicron.

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With colder weather on the way, hundreds already seeking meals and the beds full every night, the city center of winter centers is struggling with a shortage of staff and volunteers due to Omicron.

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“We are on our knees right now, in terms of staff, trying to keep the public safe, trying to follow public health guidelines while not turning people out in the cold,” Sarah Campbell, CEO of Ark Aid Street Mission, said . “It’s a nightmare.”

In addition to running Ark Aid, Campbell oversees the operation of the city’s two winter drop-in shelters: one at the YMCA’s Center Branch, which offers day meals and warm rest, and one on First-St. Andrew’s United offers night shelters and snacks.

About 100 lunches and 130 dinners are served daily outside the YMCA, and the 40-bed shelter on First-St. Andrews has been drunk every night since opening in December, Campbell said.

Many nights, shelter workers have to turn someone down and try to find them somewhere else to go, she added.

Meanwhile, the fast-paced Omicron variant has lowered her staffing level by about 25 percent across the board at Ark Aid and the two shelters, Campbell said.

“This is not our first lockdown, but the magnitude of this wave is so much greater than anything else in terms of the number of people actually affected.”

The winter centers have been considered high-risk work environments, meaning staff must take the full 10-day quarantine, she said.

It took a lot to juggle staff and shifts to keep the shelters going, Campbell said.

Staff work in full PPE, including goggles, but the people who use the shelters have to eat and sleep without masks, and they do not get glasses, Campbell said.

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“Transferability is something we are concerned about, but we follow the guidelines as best we can all the time while not dismissing people from service,” she said.

“Most of our volunteers no longer come in, and neither should they, under these public health guidelines.”

London has not yet experienced extreme cold, but forecasts call for consistent double-digit lows at night from next week.

“We have not seen the worst weather yet,” Campbell said.

She thanked Londoners for supporting the shelters with donations such as cold weather, drink boxes and snacks.

“Our community has gone up and helped us run these places,” Campbell said.

“We will continue to need donations throughout the season. Warm clothing is needed, especially men’s and women’s, small and medium. We give these things out daily and it makes a huge difference to people.”

Donations can be dropped off at the YMCA’s downtown branch, First-St. Andrews United Church or Ark Aid Street Mission, she said.

rrichmond@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/RandyRatLFPress

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