British Columbia

4th wave of COVID-19 hitting formerly unhoused people hard in provincial capital, says non-profit

When COVID-19 struck British Columbia in the spring of 2020, concerns about it tearing through the homeless population motivated the province to purchase hotels and move unsheltered people indoors.

The province provided housing when the pandemic hit. Now the delta variant has moved in too.

Paul's Motor Inn was purchased by the B.C. government during the pandemic to provide housing options for people. (Madeline Green/CBC)

When COVID-19 struck British Columbia in the spring of 2020, concerns about it tearing through the homeless population motivated the province to purchase hotels and move unsheltered people indoors.

Now, a Victoria non-profit society providing services in these congregate settings says the delta variant has moved indoors too —  making life difficult for people living in these places and the people trying to help them. 

The Victoria Cool Aid Society provides medical and food support for people living in temporary supportive housing. Mary Chudley, director of health and support services, says while the vaccine does offer a layer of support for staff and clients that people did not have in 2020, overcoming vaccine hesitancy has been a challenge.

"We're working really closely with public health these days to do outreach," said Chudley, speaking Wednesday on CBC's On The Island.

She said a public health nurse has been going to visit people with an outreach worker from the society to try to have a familiar face available to field questions and encourage vaccinations.

For privacy reasons, Chudley did not say how many people receiving society supports are currently infected, but did say cases have risen over the last couple weeks, that there are clusters among this demographic and that the cases are spread out among more than one location.

"We are continuing to provide health care that folks need on a daily basis and access to services and we're also providing increased care to this cluster of cases of COVID-positive individuals," she said,.

Cudley also said the supports are being extended to people who are discharged after being hospitalized with the virus and people isolating in congregate settings after an exposure.

When COVID-19 first struck, the provincial government moved to house people in homeless camps like this one on Pandora Avenue in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

According to B.C. Housing, there are six sites in Victoria with a total of 287 beds that were set up by the province for people experiencing homelessness to self isolate and protect themselves and others from the virus.

Chudley said the program enabled staff to build relationships with many of the individuals who benefited from the program and this could go a long way toward getting more shots in arms.

"We've built closer relationships with folks who now really need to be encouraged to be vaccinated," she said. "That relationship is so key when you're talking to someone who has so often been marginalized and stigmatized."

Chudley says anyone in the capital city who has not yet received their first or second dose of a vaccine can walk into the Victoria Conference Centre and easily have it done.

Anyone who is eligible for immunization and has not yet received a shot can also do so by booking an appointment online, calling 1-833-838-2323, or registering in person at a Service B.C. location.

As of Wednesday morning, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control was reporting 619 active cases of COVID-19 in the Island Health region.

Gregor Craigie spoke with Mary Chudley, Director of Health and Support Services for the Cool Aid Society, about how COVID-19 is affecting formerly homeless people.

With files from On The Island


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