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COVID-19: Quesnel considers its most vulnerable

City in contact with the shelter and B.C. Housing to ensure well-being of homeless during pandemic
The City of Quesnel has been in contact with Seasons House and B.C. Housing in order to understand how to best support the homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer file photo)

The City of Quesnel is taking steps to ensure the safety and well-being of its homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a statement from the City of Quesnel, the municipality has been asked to improve washroom access, increase sanitation stations and to consider establishing a homeless camp.

The release states the City has been in communication with the Seasons House Shelter, as well as B.C. Housing, and has requested that they be updated as to the ongoing needs throughout this difficult time.

“The City has absolutely been in contact with us and they are working to try and address those issues, and I think that we will probably see more in the days to come — I think that they are concerned about the homeless population and getting their needs met,” said Seasons House Shelter executive director Melanie MacDonald.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Seasons House has taken actions to ensure the safety of its guests, staff and community members. These actions include halting all daytime drop-in services for individuals not staying at the shelter and doing enhanced cleaning throughout the shelter using approved cleaning supplies that have rated effective against coronavirus, with extra focus put on high-touch points, such as light switches, door handles and counter tops in high-traffic areas.

“We have fully implemented our own pandemic plan in here,” said MacDonald. “We have a very strict hourly sanitization schedule here, all of our food is going out on disposable plates and cups and cutlery, nothing is self-serve anymore, we’ve got social distancing tape throughout the shelter to show people appropriate social distancing, staff are wearing masks, and we have masks and gloves available to clients if they want.”

In a release regarding homelessness service providers, B.C. Housing acknowledged the elevated risks for those in the homeless community should they be exposed to the virus.

“We recognize that our homelessness and transitional housing service providers serve some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” states the release. “These communities have higher rates of health concerns and may be at greater risk if exposed to the virus.”

The B.C. Housing COVID-19 release offers some guidelines for supportive housing operators, including basic testing criteria for COVID-19 and practical steps to prepare for and prevent the spread of the virus, along with enhanced cleaning protocols and how to support those who may have COVID-19.

“B.C. Housing has been absolutely exceptional working with housing and shelter providers in trying to meet their needs,” said MacDonald. “They are sending us supplies and they’re providing us recommendations in as many supports as they possibly can. In other communities, B.C. Housing has set aside blocks of rooms in hotels so that we can create space for people, and those are conversations we are having here, around what other space could be utilized to deal with some of our capacity issues here at the shelter.”

The City of Quesnel has been advised there are some individuals in the community who are uncomfortable in a group setting and therefore have not accessed emergency shelter services, and in some cases, individuals have been denied access to services due to unmanageable behaviours.

According to the City of Quesnel’s release, the City has been asked to allow these individuals to remain in place as much as possible, which the City has taken under advisement and will takes steps to not increase stress on the individuals, as is their normal practice, but will continue to ensure the safety of community spaces for all residents of Quesnel.

“I was encouraged to hear that for people living outdoors, they wouldn’t just automatically be moving those people along,” said MacDonald. “We know that for people who are homeless and living outdoors, the best thing, and the recommendations right now, are to leave people where they are at so that health care and other professionals know where to find them and they can get necessary supplies to them and we can monitor and provide them supports.”

With regards to setting up a homeless camp for those not able to access the shelter during the pandemic, the release from the City states that it has had no communication that there is presently a population that would be served by a camp.

“Unfortunately, there have been situations during this crisis where we have had to take action due to partying, fires and the accumulation of significant amounts of flammable materials,” according to the City. “We will continue to ensure safety and order in our public spaces.”

In response to requests to improve the safety of public washroom access, the City has increased its maintenance and sanitation of the public washrooms in the downtown Spirit Centre, Sugar Loaf Dog Park and along the Riverfront Trail near the women’s memorial.

The City’s release states that due to the pandemic, they are struggling to secure sanitation supplies and due to vandalism, the Sugar Loaf and Riverfront Trail public washrooms do not currently contain sanitation stations. The City has begun discussions as to where new sanitation stations will be placed, should they be able to secure the additional units.

The City will continue to monitor the ongoing needs of the homeless population and remain in contact with organizations providing care for those who are most vulnerable in order to supply additional support when and where it is needed, according to the City’s release.

“The homeless population is one of many populations the City is attempting to support at this time,” it states. “We are relying on the organizations that are charged and resourced to support these individuals to ramp up their resources and clearly identify and communicate where they are not meeting needs. We will continue to work with those agencies and seek the additional supports our community needs.”

READ MORE: UPDATE: City of Quesnel activates Level 1 Emergency Operations Centre in response to COVID-19

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