Vancouver outlines further support for Downtown Eastside during COVID-19 pandemic
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says there are currently no known outbreaks or clusters of COVID-19 in the city's Downtown Eastside, but more needs to be done to keep it that way.
The mayor made the remarks in a briefing on Friday afternoon where he thanked the city's residents for staying calm and following the advice of public health officials.
"Vancouverites have really stepped up," he said.
Stewart said the crisis is "far from behind us," and the city's top priority is currently protecting its most vulnerable communities and residents of the DTES.
"What makes the Downtown Eastside of particular importance is that many residents there are especially vulnerable with underlying health conditions that make it harder to combat COVID-19," said Stewart.
The mayor announced new programs that are now in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the DTES, including a commercial cleaning contract for the city's highest-priority single room occupancy hotels. An additional 41 bathrooms and 11 shower facilities have also been set up throughout the downtown area. The city has also secured a food delivery program that will deliver two-weeks' worth of meals to about 1,100 residents in private SROs.
Stewart also made a direct appeal to what he described as the city's "most fortunate residents and businesses" to help ensure these new programs are able to continue.
"I know this is a hard time for everyone right now but if you happen to be one of the few who have the resources to lend a hand, this is one very important way to do that," he said.
Stewart said there is currently no known outbreak in the DTES, but provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the virus is present in every community and action must be taken to stop the virus from spreading.
"We need to take more steps in order to keep it that way for longer," said Stewart. "This means increasing sanitation and cleaning, as well as making sure people have the food and supplies they need to be physically distant from others."
The mayor also emphasized the significance of safe supply in helping to allow for proper physical distancing.
"Probably the most important thing that's coming online now is safe supply," said Stewart. He described the support from the federal and provincial governments for the initiative as "unprecedented."
However, Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Women's Resource Centre, said it might not be widely known yet in the DTES that a safe supply is available and that not all residents are attached to a doctor or clinic.
"We need the safe supply initiative that was started last week to be expanded and more accessible," she said. While the community has, so far, been able to stave off COVID-19 outbreaks, overdoses have increased, with police responding to eight suspected overdose deaths last week.
Abbott also announced a recovery facility for people who are homeless with COVID-19 will be opening in a hotel on Monday, as well as a new transition house, provided by Easter Seals House, will be opening to help women and children who are fleeing violence. A distribution centre will also be set up at 41 East Hastings Street, where non-perishable food, games, puzzles, cell phones, books, and other items people might need in self-isolation will be collected.
With efforts underway to set up these initiatives, Abbott said it's been a struggle to find enough staff for them.
"Staffing is going to be one of the biggest barriers to opening some of these facilities as we move forward." She encouraged anyone interested in working right now to get in touch with a non-profit organization.
"We can provide training and support so you don't have to be perfect for this role. We can overcome whatever skills you lack," she said.
The city launched a new program on Thursday called Give a Hand, which aims at securing donations or low-cost offers on large quantities of materials from businesses and organizations during the pandemic. These items can include medical supplies, cleaning products or food. Individuals who wish to make a financial contribution are being encouraged to donate to the Vancouver Foundation's Community Response Fund.