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Outbreak of COVID-19 in Downtown Eastside would be 'devastating': Union Gospel Mission
Published Tuesday, April 7, 2020 12:17PM PDT Last Updated Tuesday, April 7, 2020 12:35PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- The City of Vancouver has taken steps to try to ensure the safety of residents on the Downtown Eastside during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the neighbourhood remains incredibly vulnerable to an outbreak of the virus.
CTV Morning Live spoke to Jeremy Hunka with the Union Gospel Mission on Tuesday about the ongoing challenges facing the DTES and why residents of that community are particularly at risk. UGM operates a shelter and other services for homeless people in the Downtown Eastside.
Hunka said residents of the low-income neighbourhood can be more vulnerable to COVID-19 because many suffer from underlying health conditions that could make it harder for them to combat the virus.
"Some have immune system deficiencies. They've been beaten and battered from being homeless or living outside already and we know that the health outcomes for COVID-19 for that specific group of the population are far worse,” he said.
“So if there were an outbreak, it would be devastating to the Downtown Eastside or the homeless community."
Another challenge facing the neighbourhood is that many organizations or service providers have been forced to reduce or suspend some of their services because of the pandemic. This comes as many people who have recently been laid off are now seeking out those services.
"So there's fewer places to go. There's a greater need," said Hunka
Hunka says UGM is still open and has made many changes to help keep people as safe as possible, such as increased social distancing, increased sanitation and protective gear for staff.
On Tuesday, the provincial government announced that hundreds of spaces have been made available for homeless B.C. residents who need to self-isolate. These include spaces at hotels, motels and community centres.
The federal government has promised to provide $10 million to help reduce the impacts of COVID-19 on Vancouver's homeless population. Hunka would like to see that money go towards giving people better spaces to be apart from others.
"The best place for that money to go is to give people a place to self-isolate or to be safe," said Hunka. "We want to see more opportunity for people who are homeless or under-housed to get into a place to stay safe. Because right now, self-isolating or social distancing is nearly impossible for someone who's homeless because they're in public all the time."
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced last week that the city has implemented several measures to help keep people in the neighbourhood safe, such as commercial cleaning for 21 single room occupancy hotels and meal delivery services for about 1,100 people.
Stewart said the city's top priority is protecting its most vulnerable communities and keeping residents of the DTES safe.
Watch the video attached to hear more of Hunka's interview, including how you can help Union Gospel Mission.