Homeless in QB

APRIL 29, 2020 – The provincial health officer says we should wash our hands frequently and stay at home to reduce the risk of either becoming infected or infecting others with the COVID-19 virus.

But you can’t stay home if you don’t have a home. And it is hard to wash your hands without running water.

Every community in BC, large and small, including Qualicum Beach, has a number of residents whose only roof over their heads is a tent, if they’re lucky. At the best of times, such living conditions leave them susceptible to illness. With COVID-19, a particularly virulent airborne respiratory virus, homeless people are particularly vulnerable.

So, what are communities in BC doing to respond?

The District of Sooke recently announced that, under the direction of Emergency Management BC, their SEAPARC Leisure Complex, which was closed on March 17, will be utilized as a temporary self-isolation shelter. According to their April 22, 2020 media release, this recreation centre is “a viable location to offer Sooke’s vulnerable residents with a location to self-isolate and limit the need to move transiently around the community. Creating an environment that helps facilitate distancing and provides access to hygiene facilities, including showers and regular hand washing helps keep everyone in Sooke safe.” Once open, there will be capacity for 45 residents; 30 housed in the arena, and 15 residing in tents outside.

Across the Salish Sea, on April 20, the B.C Government announced a partnership with the District of Squamish and Squamish Helping Hands Society to provide 49 new temporary homes for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the community. “The need for safe, secure housing has never been more important,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “This partnership with the District of Squamish and Helping Hands Society will make sure people in need have a safe place to call their own during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

“In the face of this global pandemic, we must ensure that everyone in our community can safely distance themselves from others in order to protect themselves and the broader community, and help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Karen Elliott, mayor, District of Squamish. “I am very grateful for the quick action of everyone involved to make this project happen. This project will ensure that there are no barriers for residents to access shelter and space to physically distance during COVID-19.”

Storybook Village at Qualicum Commons

In the large cities, homeless residents in Vancouver and Victoria are being temporarily relocated from tent cities into vacant hotel rooms. According to a recent CTV report, the province of British Columbia is planning to relocate over 1,000 people who are homeless into vacant hotel rooms, leased and paid for by the province. The province said each person will have their own living space, and access to meals, laundry, washrooms, storage, and health-care.

In Parksville, you may recall that their City Council removed the homeless shelter component from Orca Place in 2019. The only cold weather shelter operating this past winter at St. Anne’s Church was closed in mid-March due to COVID-19 risk. To provide a safe-distancing alternative, the Oceanside Homelessness Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team Society (OHEARTS), led by Reverend Christine Muise, created a temporary, partial, Parksville-based solution in early April providing tents for a handful of people to camp on the St. Anne’s Church grounds. Community blowback cratered that idea just as BC Housing support in the form of a few rented hotel rooms materialized.

According to co-Chair Susanna Newton, the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness (OTFH) submitted a comprehensive plan, with a request for support, to BC Housing and to Island Health on April 14, 2020, focused on the short-term urgency to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 to and from homeless residents.

And what is our Qualicum Beach Council and Administration doing to support these efforts? Apparently, despite the availability of a closed Civic Centre and recreation centre (Ravensong), Community Hall and Curling Rink, and dozens of vacant hotel rooms, plus willing provincial government partners and funders, the Town of Qualicum Beach’s public response has been mute.

Perhaps, as reported in the Vancouver Sun, we might take Lessons from Seattle . Similar to what Seattle’s South Lake Union area offers, we also have a “tiny house village” but our Storybook Village is a collection of playhouses for children situated on the grounds of the Qualicum Commons (former elementary school), all now sitting empty during COVID-19.

Surely Qualicum Beach could muster its good will, wealth and energies to come to the aid of those of us most in need during the COVID-19 state of emergency. We’re all in this together, aren’t we?

Any ideas out there?