Weeks into the fourth wave of the pandemic and the rainy season in Victoria, members of the street community where COVID-19 cases are spreading rapidly still have no place to isolate.
“The first line of defence is to have housing. If that’s not available for people, then where are the isolation spaces?” said Bernie Pauly, with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.
Since Labour Day weekend, more than 220 of those living in shelters, temporary and permanent housing in Victoria have tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Wednesday last week, there were 150 active cases. Island Health is still not declaring an outbreak.
“We have well-established protocols to ensure our partners and outreach teams deliver health care services to meet people where they are at,” Island Health told CHEK News in a statement.
Over the weekend a local volunteer service provider The Backpack Project says their 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.
I have just been informed that the tent that was being set up for people who tested positive for Covid and had nowhere to go was confiscated by Bylaw today. And all the supplies that I brought them last night are gone. 1/1
— The Back Pack Project Victoria BC (@TheBackPackPro1) September 26, 2021
Mayor Lisa Helps says with sheltering in parks, her hands are tied.
“Bylaw can’t ignore that MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the province…That signed MOU is our commitment to the province to end encampments, they have their end to hold up as well. It’s just really unfortunate that bylaw is put in this position of having to enforce these bylaws where people do need a space to be,” said Helps.
And more than two weeks after Island Health confirmed to CHEK News that COVID-19 is spreading in the homeless population, those testing positive still have nowhere to isolate.
“I’m never going to point fingers, there’s no one at fault. The pandemic has been difficult. It’s been 18 months of this. I do regret that those isolation spots were let go of. I don’t know why. But we are where we are and we’re doing what we can in the situation,” said Helps.
Island Health previously told CHEK News that the hotel rooms it had set aside earlier in the pandemic are now being used by paying guests.
Trying to find a solution, frontline health care and services workers of Victoria sent a letter to the province and Victoria’s mayor, asking the city to reinstate the 24-hour camping bylaw to allow people to shelter in place.
Helps says that’s a non-starter.
“The fact that everyone is rallying around us to allow 24/7 camping is a really sad state and sad commentary about how we treat people in a province as prosperous as B.C,” said Helps.
“Yeah, let ‘s let people camp because they have COVID? Absolutely the wrong approach. We’ve got to do better.”
A second emergency meeting between the City of Victoria, Island Health and BC Housing is set to take place Monday night.
Island Health has set up the Sobering Centre at Cook and Pembroke streets for unsheltered people who may need medical attention due to COVID-19.