Confusion, finger-pointing over temporary Mission shelter

The Downtown Mission sign at the building on Ouellette Avenue. (Photo by Adelle Loiselle)

A Windsor shelter opened a temporary building to house people who otherwise had nowhere to go, but the city of Windsor said the shelter defied health orders.

The issue is over the Downtown Mission reopening a shelter at the former Windsor Central Library on Ouellette Avenue. Executive Director Reverend Ron Dunn said temporary space for 35 people was provided for those who could not find shelter at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre.

However, the city said that the temporary shelter was not authorized and has moved to shut it down in cooperation with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

“In a letter to local media, Downtown Mission operators shared that they were re-opening a temporary shelter in leased space at 850 Ouellette Avenue,” read a release from the city. “Opening another facility for those that disagree with established COVID-19 protocols dilutes the available community resources to deal with this issue and is counterproductive to the paramount goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community. To avoid simply replicating the issues that contributed to the original outbreak and to further ensure public safety is protected, orders from the City and health unit to discontinue its use have been issued.”

The Mission pushed back on Tuesday evening. In a letter obtained by Blackburn News, Dunn criticized the city’s release as having “inaccurate information”, and that the Mission was not against medical advice.

“The release fails to mention that the Mission, from the office of Rev. Ron Dunn, was first to ask about a pandemic plan of both the City and the health unit and both indicated the lack of a plan,” read the letter. “Then the Mission provided a working document sent by a partner shelter in Vancouver which was used at the beginning of the pandemic, but since changed based on new information and circumstance. In addition, it was the Mission who requested mass testing of our staff and guests at the beginning of the pandemic and this request was first met with a ‘no’, then changed and testing completed.”

The letter also called the city out for saying “currently there is space for everyone”, but the Mission claimed people were being turned away from the Aquatic Centre. Dunn has vowed to allow people to stay at the former library until the city comes up with a plan to ensure all those needing shelter are taken care of.

The city has insisted that all possible efforts are being made to do so.

“While we are supporting the response to the Mission’s outbreak, we share the belief of leading industry experts that housing is a basic human right, and shelters should be temporary solutions that focus on housing people as a priority. This belief is reflected in the recently adopted Emergency Shelter Review and ten-year Housing and Homelessness Master Plan,” said Windsor Commissioner of Community Development and Health Service Jelena Payne.”

The city’s media release said local health partners have been working diligently with the Mission to completely clean and sanitize its Victoria Avenue property, which Dunn hopes to reopen for full programming by the end of March.