COVID-19 clusters reported in ‘particularly vulnerable’ Victoria homeless community

  • General

When the pandemic started there were fears about it spreading like wildfire through Victoria’s vulnerable homeless community. Surprisingly, for a year-and-a-half the virus was kept at bay — until now.

“I think we thought that maybe we would be spared but COVID came to the homeless community in Victoria this week,” said Our Place Society CEO Julian Daly.

While Island Health won’t disclose which supportive housing facilities or shelters the cases are at or how many people are impacted, it is not yet considering it an ‘outbreak’.

“We are aware of some clusters in some of our congregate settings, we’ve had plans in place for a long time anticipating these events would occur,” said Island Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Richard Stanwick.

READ MORE: B.C. adds 820 new COVID-19 cases, nine deaths

“That this is occurring is not surprising given the amount of COVID that is circulating in the community and that’s why we had plans in place and certainly have borrowed and learned from experiences in other health authorities including Vancouver Coastal’s experience with the Downtown Eastside,” he said.

Service providers say having rising case numbers in the homeless population does create some unique challenges and concerns.

“I think given the physical proximity many folk who are homeless, and that we serve, have with each other I am concerned there will be a further growth in numbers,” said Daly.

And while self-isolating is easier for those living in former hotel facilities, with their own rooms, it’s a concern for those living in shelters and on the streets.

“There’s no ability to restrict people’s movements, what we do is we encourage, we support and again through education and building on the relationships through our outreach teams to support these individuals to make sure they not only take care of their own health but that they reduce the likelihood of spreading COVID to individuals who they fraternize with,” Stanwick said.

But there is some good news, unlike a year ago, many of those in the street community and those who work with them are now vaccinated.

Our Place says it has had hundreds of people receive their shots and with word of rising case numbers, more are now showing up to clinics.

“We’ve seen a pretty substantial uptake this week of vaccines, now that folks know that COVID is in their midst, and obviously you know homeless people are no different than anyone else, they’re concerned, they don’t want to get it and homeless people are particularly vulnerable,” said Daly.

While the virus may continue to spread, the hope is that with enough vaccinations, the community won’t be devastated by serious illness and death.

In a statement provided to CHEK News, BC Housing said it was “working closely” with Island Health to help housing operators take appropriate measures to keep residents safe, as well as offering on-site vaccination services.

“All BC Housing-funded shelters have isolation plans at their sites in the event of a COVID positive test. If there isn’t an appropriate opportunity to isolate within shelters, BC Housing has a contingency plan to move people to supportive housing units (independent units),” the organizaiton said. “Supportive housing tenants who test COVID positive will isolate in their own unit.”

BC Housing said it has set up protocols including reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing, mask-wearing in common areas for guests and staff and regular hand-washing and sanitization for guests and staff.

Our Place will be holding a pop-up vaccination clinic Saturday, September 11.