Province secures safe shelter, supports for people living in major encampments


April 25, 2020

VANCOUVER – The Province is working with the cities of Vancouver and Victoria to transition people living in encampments in Oppenheimer Park, Topaz Park and on Pandora Avenue into safe, temporary accommodations with wraparound supports to protect their health and safety in the overlapping COVID-19 and overdose crises.

Since March 2020, the Province, in partnership with BC Housing and local municipalities, has worked to secure and operate 686 hotel and community centre accommodations in Vancouver and 324 hotel spaces in Victoria. This allows people from the encampments to safely physically distance, with access to important health, social and other supports.

“Providing safe, temporary accommodations and wraparound services for people facing homelessness has been an urgent priority for this government for a long time,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “Now, more than ever, with the concurrent emergencies of the pandemic and the ongoing opioid crisis, it is time to implement long-term housing solutions that take care of and protect our most vulnerable people.”

This is a step toward providing permanent housing for people in these encampments. BC Housing, non-profit and health authority staff, provincial community-integration specialists and municipal staff will be working directly with people living in these three encampments and will help transition people into safer accommodations. There, they will have their own living space and access to services, such as meals, laundry, washroom facilities, health-care services, addictions treatment and harm reduction, storage for personal belongings and other supports.

This is the next step in a phased approach, developed in co-ordination and collaboration with local governments and service delivery partners, to support vulnerably housed people living with elevated risk during two public health emergencies – the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose crisis.

“Having a roof over your head, access to food, health care and social supports are all essential to finding a pathway to hope,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “As we stare down not one, but two public health emergencies, we are saying that we won’t leave anyone behind.”

By transitioning vulnerable people into more secure accommodations, the Province is focused on reducing the immediate health and safety risks to people living and working in these densely populated encampments, as well as those in the neighbouring communities.

“Every day I am inspired by the tremendous leadership the Province has shown Columbians,” said Lisa Helps, mayor, City of Victoria. “This approach to helping our most vulnerable residents is thoughtful, prudent and ultimately will keep all of us safer during this pandemic.”

This transition is supported by an order under the Emergency Program Act under the provincial state of emergency issued by Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, as part of the Province’s all-of-government response to COVID-19. The order sets May 9 as the deadline to transition people out of the encampments.

“In this provincial state of emergency, our priority is public safety: for those living in these encampments, neighbouring communities and front-line workers delivering services to these vulnerable people,” Farnworth said. “We are committed to working in partnership with local governments and law enforcement to address the elevated health and safety risks within and around these encampments, while making sure people have access to the critical services they need.”

The Province is working on comprehensive long-term plans to secure permanent housing with appropriate supports for those leaving the encampments and moving into safe, temporary accommodations. These plans will include strategies that will mitigate a return to homelessness, and will also make sure the many public safety concerns at the current encampments are addressed, including fire code violations, property crime and sexual violence.

These accommodations are in addition to the more than 1,739 beds that have been secured for vulnerable people, including those experiencing homelessness, in other hotel rooms, community centres and emergency response centres across the province. This step also supports additional and existing work done to date by the COVID-19 Vulnerable Populations Working Group, regional health authorities, BC Housing and the cities of Vancouver and Victoria.

Quotes:

Cheryl Casimer, political executive, First Nations Summit –
“We would like to acknowledge the efforts of the provincial government and all partners involved in developing a strategy for the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Although the strategy announced today includes a temporary plan to address urgent housing and social service supports needed to curtail the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the DTES, it will also allow the province and primary partners to work towards addressing the much needed long-term housing and wellness strategies and needs to support the DTES community. Based on reports that a second wave of COVID-19 is possible, it is absolutely necessary that these long-term needs are addressed on a priority basis.”

Regional Chief Terry Teegee, B.C. Assembly of First Nations –
“These necessary supports for vulnerable members of the DTES community as well as other communities are much needed during this unprecedented health crisis. I applaud the efforts of the provincial government and other partners in addressing the housing and health-related realities that residents are facing. We must continue to advance and ensure long-term collaborative supports as we work to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Learn More:

The related order under the Emergency Program Act under the provincial state of emergency can be viewed here: http://news.gov.bc.ca/files/M128-2020.pdf

For an overview of BC Housing’s work to monitor and respond to COVID-19, visit: https://www.bchousing.org/COVID-19

For more information on the steps to secure housing: Steps to Secure Housing - Technical Briefing

For more information and latest medical updates on COVID-19, follow the BCCDC on Twitter @CDCofBC or visit its website: http://www.bccdc.ca/

For more information on non-medical issues like travel recommendations and how to manage social isolation, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/COVID-19
Or call 1 888 COVID19 (1 888 268-4319) between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. (Pacific time), seven days a week.

BC Housing has procured spaces across the province for vulnerable people to recover and self-isolate, including hotels, motels and community centres.
For the lastest updates: Community Self-Isolation Sites & Shelter Expansions

Two backgrounders follow.

Contact:

Joint Information Centre
Media Relations
236 478-1336

BACKGROUNDER 1

Vancouver decampment plan

Given the health risks associated with COVID-19, the Province is taking necessary steps to support the transition of approximately 200 people living at Oppenheimer Park into temporary shelter and managed emergency response centres.

This critical action will assist people living in the park by providing a safe place to stay, enabling appropriate physical distancing and improving access to hygiene facilities and social supports.

Work to move people out of the park has been underway for months, but starting April 25, 2020, and over the coming weeks, BC Housing will lead a co-ordinated plan that will quickly move people into temporary accommodations.

Supports offered to people during the move include:

  • outreach and case management services;
  • prior to moving, each individual will be assessed by outreach workers to match them with the site that best meets their needs, as well as their preference;
  • all individuals will be provided with two bins for their belongings;
  • transportation of belongings and people;
  • storage of additional belongings, if needed;
  • food, cleaning and security services; and
  • mental and physical health services, including overdose prevention.

Temporary accommodation sites in Vancouver:

  • Vancouver: 10 sites, 686 spaces, including:
    • Eight hotels
    • Two emergency response centres: Coal Harbour Community Centre with 64 beds and and Roundhouse Community Centre with 79 beds
  • Access to emergency response centres and designated hotels will be referral-only.
  • Support services include daily meals, Wi-Fi and cleaning services.
  • 24/7 staff onsite managed by experienced non-profit housing providers.
  • Health-care services include access to mental health and addictions treatment, as well as primary care.
  • A portion of these spaces will be used for people who have COVID-19.

Emergency response centres and designated hotels are an interim housing and shelter solution to reduce homelessness and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to supporting individuals to move out of Oppenheimer Park, the Province is working to assist others in the Downtown Eastside who are experiencing homelessness and in need of a safe space to self-isolate. This includes working with the City of Vancouver to provide daily meals to 1,683 households and regular deep cleaning of 114 single-room occupancy hotels in Vancouver.

Contact:

Joint Information Centre
Media Relations
236 478-1336

BACKGROUNDER 2

Victoria decampment plan

Given the health risks associated with COVID-19, the Province is taking necessary steps to support the transition of people living in unsafe, dense encampments on Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park, into temporary accommodations.

This critical action will assist people living on the streets and in the parks by providing a safe place to stay, enabling appropriate physical distancing and improving access to hygiene facilities, health care and social supports.

Starting April 25, 2020, and over the coming weeks, BC Housing will lead a co-ordinated plan that will support people to rapidly move out of the encampments and into temporary accommodations where people will be able to self-isolate.

Supports offered to people during the move include:

  • outreach and case management services;
  • prior to moving, each individual will be assessed by outreach workers and Island Health to match them with the site that best meets their social and health needs, as well as their preference;
  • all individuals will be provided with two bins for their belongings;
  • transportation of belongings and people;
  • storage of additional belongings, if needed; and
  • mental and physical health services, including overdose prevention.

Temporary accommodation sites in Victoria:

  • Five hotels, 324 spaces
  • Access to hotels is by referral-only.
  • Support services include daily meals, Wi-Fi and cleaning services.
  • Health-care services include access to mental health and addictions treatment, as well as primary care.
  • Staff onsite 24/7, managed by experienced non-profit housing providers.

Designated hotels are an interim solution to reduce homelessness and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Contact:

Joint Information Centre
Media Relations
236 478-1336