Those experiencing homelessness in the Cowichan Valley will soon have additional sheltering spaces and supports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Town of Ladysmith, along with other local municipalities, has been working with the COVID-19 Vulnerable Population Cowichan Task Force and the Province of BC to find ways to reduce the potential transmission of the virus among people living on the streets.
“This is a critical time in our COVID-19 response. The direction from the Province to local governments is to make connections with our local homeless population to prevent the spread of the virus,” Mayor Aaron Stone said.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, BC Housing is working with communities and local health authorities across the province to identify temporary sheltering spaces – such as emergency response centres and designated hotels – to provide safe places for people experiencing homelessness. In some communities where not enough indoor spaces are yet available, organized outdoor living is being arranged.
In the Cowichan Valley, small-scale tenting sites with toilets and hand washing stations are being set-up. These sites will include food, outreach, hygiene and security services. The groups staying at these sites will be no more than a dozen people who can self-isolate together.
“The temporary outdoor shelter site, across from the existing winter shelter on Buller Street, will be serving individuals familiar to Ladysmith Resources Centre Association (LRCA) staff and offer the same services, but in an outdoor location while providing for social distancing and monitoring,” said Mayor Stone.
Temporary small-scale tenting will be provided at the Buller Street site during the ongoing pandemic. The LRCA, a non-profit operator experienced in working with vulnerable populations, will oversee the day-to-day management of the site.
The site was chosen for its close proximity to bathrooms, laundry and food preparation facilities, while allowing proper physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The site is right across the street from the existing LRCA Cold Weather Shelter and is being viewed as an extension of that facility. The Cold Weather shelter is not large enough to allow for proper physical distancing, although the shelter facilities – which include access to shower, laundry, and cooking facilities – will be put to good use.
LRCA staff will spearhead on-the-ground services, with support from the Cowichan Housing Association, Island Health, Nanaimo and Area Services for Families, and other public health organizations.
Many local homeless individuals access outreach programs, such as the shelter, food bank and meal program. Only those known to the LRCA will be invited to self-isolate on the Buller Street site.
“During the best of times, those precariously housed or without shelter face many challenges just surviving every day,” LRCA executive director, Christy Wood said.
“With the current pandemic, the situation has become even more unbearable for these individuals. People are worried about getting sick and about how they will meet the most basic needs many of us take for granted. The Ladysmith Resources Centre Association is ready to work with the Town of Ladysmith, the Cowichan Housing Association and the COVID-19 Vulnerable Persons Task Force to support those most disadvantaged in the current pandemic to not only meet basic needs of our community members but to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
In addition to daily support from LRCA shelter staff, specialized health teams will visit Ladysmith regularly to engage with individuals, assessing their mental and physical health, as well as checking for COVID-19 symptoms.
Dedicated security has been hired to be on-site daily in Ladysmith between 10 pm and 6 am. Additionally, a rotating security team will patrol between all Cowichan sites during daytime hours. Garbage collection, cleaning and sanitation will also occur regularly at the site.
The announcement of the site met some backlash from residents on social media who were frustrated that they were not consulted prior to the establishment of the site.
Amanda Jessome, a Ladysmith resident who lives in close proximity to the site was initially upset about the lack of notice provided to local residents, however after reading the information provided by the Town of Ladysmith, she now supports the site.
“I came to realize that the homeless staying there are already known to our LRCA, would be limited to 12 people, and were not being brought in from other municipalities to ease their homeless burden. I reached out and spoke with Christy at the LRCA and told her my concerns, to which she seemed to have an answer or policy that they would be following that eased all these issues for me,” Jessome said.
“Knowing that these homeless are already in the surrounding area, going into the same stores I would; I honestly feel better knowing that they will have a safe place to sleep and keep themselves clean.”
BC Housing and the Victoria Foundation – Rapid Relief Fund are providing $392,000 in emergency funding to support the local homeless population both in Ladysmith and at other identified sites throughout the Cowichan Region.
The current direction from the Province is in place until June 30th and can be extended with appropriate funding.