50 new isolation beds to open for homeless people in Victoria as COVID-19 spreads

CHEK

The province will fund approximately 50 new spaces for unhoused people with COVID-19 to isolate in Greater Victoria, B.C.’s attorney general announced alongside Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps Friday.

“We are faced with the very real prospect, again, of not being able to provide supported shelter for everyone who is COVID-positive and who is living outside in Victoria,” David Eby said.

He said the province, through BC Housing, will open the beds in the “coming weeks,” ensuring there are enough spots in the city for people to isolate.

Thirty of the beds will be opened in existing shelters and supportive housing locations, and an additional 20 pop-up spaces will be created in a new location anticipated to open in early November.

Eby adding the pods that were used last year at the Save on Foods Memorial Arena will be used in the 20 new sites, as well as any other sites that will allow the space for them.

The locations of the spaces will not be publicly revealed, but immediate neighbors will receive more information, Eby said.

The announcement comes more than two weeks after Island Health confirmed COVID-19 was spreading in the region’s homeless population.

It was later revealed that those testing positive had nowhere to isolate.

Last weekend, a local volunteer service provider said supplies like beds, tarps, sleeping bags and medical supplies intended to allow homeless COVID-19 patients a spot to isolate, were confiscated under the City of Victoria camping bylaw.

On Friday, Eby said the city has found spaces for all known COVID-positive homeless people, which combined with the new beds means there’s the capacity for people to isolate even if there’s an increase in current numbers.

Because of that, he said, there is no need for an encampment.

“Even if we did require those spaces we would not have staff to manage the site today,” he said.

The spaces announced today are temporary, the province reinstating that construction has begin on the over 280 brand new supportive housing units in the region.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city has been working with the provincial government and Island Healthto find a solution.

The city has been put in the difficult situation of trying to keep parks open for the public as well as allowing homeless people to stay as they may be struggling with mental or other health conditions, she said.

“Sleeping in a tent in a park is neither a housing nor health solution,” Helps said.

An emergency meeting was called last weekend, Helps said, in an effort to figure out shelter options for those who are homeless and have tested positive from COVID-19.

Island Health’s chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick said the health authority estimates just 30 per cent of the homeless population has had the vaccine, compared with more than 80 per cent for the general population.

“They’re not likely going to come to the usual sources of care, so we’re bringing the care to them,” he said, of a vaccination and testing program for the homeless.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said this week that health officials across the province are dealing with similar scenarios as places that were used as temporary shelters are switching back to their original purpose as hotels or motels.

“We’re increasing on-the-street vaccination and testing for people. We’re supporting staff in BC Housing and in shelters to make sure we can support people across the Downtown Eastside and in other communities where this is an issue,” she said referring to a Vancouver neighbourhood.

With files from The Canadian Press

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