A ministry is asking for prayers of unity as their residents return to their normal activities following extreme isolation.

Two weeks before Christmas, Union Gospel Mission became the site of a COVID-19 outbreak.

"It was actually heartbreaking because these guys are dealing with enough as it is," Martin Chidwick, Development Director with Union Gospel Mission says. "That was painful because various ones were taking it harder than others, but at the end of the day, they showed remarkable resilience."

Chidwick says it was particularly difficult for the men recovering from addictions to be isolated in their modest rooms without the ability to see each other and take part in their Bible classes together. 

"Half a dozen of our gentlemen, our recovering addicts, were locking their rooms basically and for them of course that is tough, especially at Christmas time."

He says that the staff worked hard throughout the outbreak to care for the men, but says "when they hurt we hurt too."

The outbreak lastest a total of six weeks with approximately a dozen people contracting the virus with most of the cases being asymptomatic. Chidwick says the generosity of their community helped them through the difficult times.

"We are very blessed. We had lots of prayer going on for the men."

He says people donated DVD players and Christian programming to the shelter to give the men something to do in isolation, as all of their group programmings had been put on hold.

One of the difficult parts of the isolation was those who returned from their alternative isolation accommodations after recovering from the virus could leave their rooms, while those who did not contract it remained isolated.

A glimmer of hope came from donning PPE and having phone calls. Chaplains were able to help clients work through their struggles as they spent their days and nights alone.

"We were allowed, if we were properly attired with gowns and facemasks, assortments of gloves, and whatever else to have one person go in to cheer them up or at least to connect with them."

Now that the outbreak is over, UGM can let out a sigh of relief and return to its regular programming. 

Chidwick says they are very thankful for the support they receive through the healthcare system and well as from supporters throughout the stretch of isolation. 

UGM is also able to once again take drop-in visits after being temporarily closed for two weeks during the outbreak. Chidwick is glad to see them continue to welcome visitors, even if it remains at a low capacity.

"We were not able to do that for a couple of weeks, so that hurt us as well. Emotionally that hurt us. We still served out of our doors hot lunches so we were able to do that to do but we would rather have people come in and dine with us."

He says people can pray for them as the men begin to reconnect with each other.

The homeless and unsheltered population is facing disproportionately high rates of infection in Manitoba. This is due to several factors including the transit nature of many including couch surfing, lower capacity at shelters bringing a rise to make-shift communal living inside of bus shelters, and the inability to practice the same hygiene standards as the sheltered population. At the same time, many Manitobans are facing significant financial difficulty, some relying on places such as UGM for the first time.