As of April 28th, BC Housing has moved a total of 41 people into indoor shelter spaces at hotel rooms.
An order issued by Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth, requires the encampments at Topaz Park, along Pandora Ave, and at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver to be dismantled by May 9th.
Everyone residing in those encampments need to be moved into hotel rooms or otherwise designated shelter spaces by that date.
As of April 25th, there were 360 vulnerable people living on Pandora Avenue and in the Topaz Park homeless encampment.
Today, BC Housing announced that 41 of those people have been moved into shelter spaces, and outreach teams remain on the ground working with people one-on-one to find indoor options that best meet their needs.
“We are supporting people who have been living outdoors in these camps for some time now,” reads a tweet from BC Housing.
“We have been working with them for weeks, if not months, and are now taking steps to get a roof over their heads.”
Hotels have been identified by the province as temporary shelter options for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic as they are currently empty in most B.C. cities due to travel restrictions.
The province has also secured spaces for women only — including an entire facility just for women in Victoria — shelter spaces for youth, and culturally specific locations for Indigenous people after identifying specific needs.
Transfer to hotel spaces are referrals-only, meaning BC Housing, its non-profit partners, and health authorities choose who goes to which hotel and when, after outreach workers speak to individuals on the ground to assess their needs.
Meals and cleaning services are provided daily to those staying at shelters, and staff on site provide specific supports as needed by individuals. Staff have also been monitoring people going in and out of the hotel buildings and preventing guests from entering the buildings.
The transition process and services provided to people living at these facilities over the next few months will be funded by the $40 million allocated to BC Housing in March.
Hotels & civic centres are an interim step. These sites are also accommodating people from shelters or other precarious housing. Some people are also moving directly into permanent housing. BC Housing is committed to helping people long-term w/ permanent housing solutions. 6/6
— BC Housing (@BC_Housing) April 29, 2020
These interim housing spaces at hotels are being rented by BC Housing for a period of three to six months.
Once that period of time is over, the province will work to acquire permanent supportive housing units to try and ensure that people do not return to homelessness after the pandemic.
To that end, BC Housing will be looking at acquiring some of the hotels and motels that are currently being leased for long term use to shelter homeless populations.
Authorities are also looking at accelerating the construction of temporary modular housing units at locations across B.C.
As for COVID-19 concerns, both Victoria and Vancouver have begun testing protocols for vulnerable populations.
According to Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Island Health region, no one at the Topaz Park encampment or on Pandora Ave has thus far tested positive for the virus.
“Our major concern right now is people bringing COVID-19 into those groups rather than the group being a primary source of transmission,” said Dr. Stanwick.
A large number of vulnerable people were displaced and forced into the streets of Victoria and Vancouver after homeless shelters had to shut down, as they did not have adequate room for people to maintain a distance of six feet from each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similar measures are being taken in Vancouver, where authorities are also working to secure hotels and emergency response centres to house homeless people living at Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown East Side.
BC Housing will be taking responsibility of professionally cleaning each hotel after it has housed homeless people before handing it back to owners.