Vancouver securing hotel rooms in preparation of COVID-19 outbreak among the homeless
VANCOUVER -- If someone is experiencing novel coronavirus symptoms or has just returned from abroad, most would have a home to self-isolate in.
But those experiencing homelessness would have few options if they tested positive for COVID-19.
City of Vancouver officials said they are one step closer to finding housing options for the city's most vulnerable population.
"We are securing hotel rooms, so if there is someone that's homeless, or living in a shelter, that's needing to be in isolation, they are being placed in hotel rooms," explained Sadhu Johnston, city manager, at a special meeting Monday.
The city created a task force and is collaborating with Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Housing to better support those experiencing homelessness during the outbreak.
"All agencies are working together on an approach that is both humane and is hopefully protective of the broader population in the city and the Downtown Eastside," Johnston said.
Advocates have voiced concern that a coronavirus outbreak among the homeless would be devastating since many are battling addiction and already suffer from compromised immune systems.
"We're already facing a lower life expectancy; you're basically a senior at 45 here," said Christopher Livingstone, an outreach coordinator with Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre.
He said some social agencies have reduced services or closed altogether in response to the pandemic, and as an unintended consequence, people in the Downtown Eastside have few places to go.
"Unfortunately there's more and more that are wandering the streets now; people don’t have food and don’t have place to use the bathroom or places to wash up," he said.
City officials added 11 handwashing stations in the Downtown Eastside and one in Oppenheimer Park last week.
According to the city's website, four of those handwashing stations were stolen and three of them have been recovered.
"Our objective is to help people in the Downtown Eastside as much as possible, as quickly as possible," Mayor Kennedy Stewart said.
Livingstone said he is grateful the city is working to get hotel rooms, as it was one of their recommendations, but cautions the virus won't wait.
"I'd rather not wait until we're isolating, I'd like to see them off the streets now," he said.