The Redwood Project:
A community-based COVID-19 response for those experiencing homelessness
Talk Tuesday - June 30, 2020


Nancy McPherson RN BScN MSc

Nancy has been nursing for 40 years in various capacities including northern/remote, rural and urban settings. She also has experience with international health having worked in the West Indies and co-led health reform post-perestroika in north eastern Siberia.  
Nancy is a Population Health Planner Analyst with Prairie Mountain Health and an Associate Professor in the Department of Nursing at Brandon University. She is passionate about social justice and public policy to address health inequities experienced by under-served populations.


Nancy McPherson spoke with us while wearing several hats including population health analyst, associate professor at Brandon University, board member, community volunteer and advocate for underserved populations. Her official role in the Redwood Project was as a community volunteer. The Redwood Project was a group effort of several community groups including the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation and Community Advisory Board and they provided a safe place for unhoused people to self-isolate in case of potential COVID-19 infection. 

There wasn’t much time to plan and an urgent need so with incredible support from colleagues, local Hutterite communities, local businesses, Brandon University, and friends, they arranged for funding, staffing, food, laundry, personal hygiene supplies, COVID-19 supplies and equipment and transportation in time to open on March 30 with 15 units at the Redwood Motel. They were thrilled that at one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s regular press conferences he pointed out the Redwood Project as an example of an effective community-based response. 

Although the Redwood Project was intended as a place for individuals to self-isolate while not putting others at risk, not having a home was almost never the only issue. Guests often had complex medical needs that volunteers were unable to manage. Things like mental illness, addictions, chronic and sometimes uncontrolled conditions, a history of trauma, and some required episodic nursing care like urinary catheter maintenance and dressing changes. Nancy described how difficult it is for individuals with complex medical needs to access care in a mixture of various health, housing and social community systems and services. 

The Redwood Project also provided an opportunity for the guests to be connected to local community programs and receive help with the paperwork involved in the maze of federal, provincial and local programs. As a result, every single guest left the Redwood with identification, a social insurance number and Manitoba Health coverage. 44% of guests were connected to permanent housing.

Next steps will include analysis of 160 pages of progress notes, a review of access criteria to community based programs and an evaluation report with recommendations to be discussed with senior leadership at Prairie Mountain Health, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and other community partners and potential funders. 

Question and answer

1. How many people were accommodated in this project?

65-70 individuals. The guests came and stayed at the hotel voluntarily and were not mandated to stay. There were strict rules but considering how difficult it was for some people to self-isolate in a 3500 square foot home just imagine how difficult it was to self-isolate in a motel room.

2. What was the entry or access point to the Redwood Project?

Many guests were referred from the emergency department but some also self-referred.

3. Who were the volunteers? Teachers? Nurses? The public? Was there a callout?

  • All the volunteers connected with the project by word of mouth and there was a wide range of backgrounds. Some were staff from community programs who were redeployed to help at the Redwood Project, there were some RPN students who came to volunteer when their classes were paused, and some community members who were just keen to help in any way they could.
  • There was no formal criteria for volunteers other than meeting with the project coordinator with the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation to make sure they knew what they were getting into and were reaching out for the right reasons.


4. What happens with the homeless now that the program has ended? What if there is a second wave?

  • What happens now? They’re out on the street, that’s where they were before. COVID-19 shone a public light on them and their experience and after staying at the Redwood Project many of them are connected more intimately with partner agencies. There is some consideration for a more permanent response now that the light is on this population and there is an opportunity to name and solve some of the problems, maybe there can be a better solution.
  • In terms of a second wave, we would be able to respond more quickly and better given the lessons we learned. We feel like we know what we’re doing and what we’re capable of now. The plan is for some conversations with different parts of the health system to address some issues now so we’re even more ready for a second wave.


5. How receptive was the leadership of Prairie Mountain Health to the project?

This Redwood Project was a community response so PMH leadership actually wasn’t involved in the planning but brought in to troubleshoot issues as they came up. Going forward talking about a more permanent response, leadership would be invited to the table as soon as there is a table.

6. Was this for adults only? Were there any children and families there?

The Redwood Project was open to families. Only two guests stayed that had their children with them but they were adult children.

7. Were all the guests from Brandon or from other areas too?

Primarily from Brandon, sometimes because the population was so transient folks came through from other places too.