Advocates for the homeless prepare for winter in a pandemic

Winter presents unique challenges to people experiencing homelessness this year in Campbell River

Campbell River’s homelessness service providers are facing a different kind of winter this year.

“We’re preparing for all possible scenarios,” said Sue Moen, Salvation Army shelter worker and one of the leaders of the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness. “I’m working on the assumption that [COVID-19] will come to the shelter. Unless the trajectory of community spread changes very soon, right now it is looking like at some point it will hit our populations and make it into the shelters.”

Because of the pandemic, resources that would be available to people experiencing homelessness are limited. Physical distancing, increased cleaning and changes to staffing levels all play a part in what could be a difficult winter for Campbell River’s population of people experiencing homelessness and those who work with them.

“The public health orders and requirements are not easy to support people to follow,” Moen said. “People experiencing homelessness are in a constant state of crisis and high anxiety, so when you add the anxiety about the pandemic to that, and then ask them to develop a whole new set of habits, it’s a big challenge on the agencies supporting them. It adds to the emotional and mental toll of the work that we already do.”

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These agencies have had to change much of their operations to fit the new challenges. Some of these changes have not been fleshed out yet, but agencies are ensuring the services that people rely on are stable.

“Certainly, we have seen a lot of changes there. All organizations are trying to adapt and trying to keep services going with new delivery models. I think every organization is going through that, including us,” said Cleo Corbett, a senior planner with the city of Campbell River whose focus is on housing, community development and supports for people in vulnerable situations.

“Where people used to go to the library to access a computer, or go to the Salvation Army Lighthouse to access service. Those services are closed or modified in some way,” she added. “We’re looking at how we can reopen the community centre safely and how we can balance our response to the pandemic while also keeping services available to people.”

However, a few new developments have taken place that could reduce some of the strain on the system. The new beds at the former Rosebowl Restaurant and the development at 580 Dogwood Street that will also be open sometime this winter will add 70 units are examples. More beds are also in the works with various other projects

“I am really proud and grateful of all the work that the city has done with BC housing to get so many projects going in Campbell River,” Corbett said. “If we look at everything that’s either been approved or been applied for in 2020, it’s approximately $45 million in investments. It is tremendous.”

Service providers do feel more prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 based on their experiences from the start of the pandemic. During the first six months, several different funding streams have opened up that did not exist before. Also, funds for emergencies are different from funds for regular cold weather shelters.

“If in the dialogue with BC Housing we start to talk again about an emergency response, as opposed to an extreme weather response, then there are other resources that are possibly available,” Moen explained.

Despite the challenges, both Moen and Corbett noted how much progress has been made, and how the crisis has brought a community together to make improvements.

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Corbett explained that “the work that [the Coalition] did to really coordinate all of the service providers through the pandemic, having weekly meetings, weekly and sometimes daily information bulletins about what services are available where and how people can access them… was not only for the city and service providers, but it was also geared towards letting people experiencing homelessness know where they could access service.”

“Faced with a crisis, people chip in, they do their darndest and they do their best,” Moen added. “Community agencies and officials and the guests at the shelter stepped up in the early days and chipped in here… They’re helping with laundry, helping keep the place clean, cleaning up after themselves. Despite the fear and the uncertainty of the people accessing services that are unsheltered, they’re very respectful of those services and of all of the new things we ask them to do to access those services.”

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marc.kitteringham@campbellrivermirror.com

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