Homeless on Vancouver Island vulnerable to COVID-19 spread

WatchWhile precedent-setting measures are now in place to stop coronavirus' spread in our communities, the hundreds of homeless who live across Vancouver Island fear they could be extremely vulnerable to it.  Skye Ryan reports.

As events are cancelled across Vancouver Island to ensure people socially distance themselves, homeless people who have to huddle together for meals and warmth say handwashing isn’t commonplace among them.

They worry they are vulnerable to spreading COVID-19.

“Handwashing down here just isn’t something that usually happens,” said homeless Nanaimo resident Jennifer McMillan.

“And things are just gross. We don’t even have a place to wash our hands or use the toilet. I would call it a major public health issue,” she said.

Forty-two-year-old McMillan said it’s just a matter of time before the virus hits here, and the homeless can’t stockpile and distance themselves from it like others.

Ram Manhas covers his face whenever he’s out now in downtown Nanaimo now, and says hand sanitizer and handwashing stations would be a good first step to helping the homeless during this outbreak.

“There’s no safety down there,” said Manhas.

“They’ve got no place to wash their hands.”

The Salvation Army in Nanaimo declined to comment on the story, but Victoria’s Our Place did and said this is a very vulnerable time to be homeless.

“What will happen as this pandemic gets worse that will become a challenge for us,” said Grant McKenzie of Our Place.

“Because there is no way to isolate people and so we’ll be working with the city and the province on these alternative methods.”

No final plans are in place. According to McKenzie, alcohol-free hand sanitizer, that is in short supply right now, is provided at Our Place but isn’t handed out to be taken away.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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