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50 new isolation pods coming for Victoria’s unhoused, COVID-positive population

300 unhoused people, shelter staff have had COVID-19 since pandemic start, Island Health says
50 new self-isolation pods, like the ones used at the old Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre shelter, will be available to Victoria’s unhoused, COVID-positive population by early November. (Courtesy of Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre)

Approximately 50 new self-isolation pods will be available to unhoused, COVID-positive people in Victoria by early November, B.C.’s housing minister announced Friday (Oct. 1).

An additional 30 spaces will be created in existing shelters, and a flexible 20 pop-up ones will be created in a new, undisclosed location, attorney general and housing minister David Eby said in a joint press conference with Island Health and the City of Victoria. This adds to 287 self-isolation spaces already available.

The need for more spaces was only made publicly known last week when internal documents were leaked to a local media outlet, showing a significant number of COVID-19 cases and lack of self-isolation areas for Victoria’s unhoused population. Following the leak, an emergency press conference was called Sept. 24 in which Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick admitted more proper isolation spaces are needed.

Island Health said it cannot confirm the current number of COVID-19 cases in Victoria’s unhoused population, but said there have been about 300 cases between unhoused individuals and shelter staff since the start of the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Island Health confirms positive COVID-19 cases among community facing homelessness

Stanwick said the goal now is to provide self-isolation shelter space for any individual who wants and needs it. The 50 pods will mirror those used in the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre shelter, offering plexiglass barriers between shelter users. They will be reserved for people who need medical support but aren’t sick enough that they need to go to hospital, Stanwick said.

He reiterated the need for increased vaccinations and continued physical distancing and mask wearing, but recognized that a number of challenges within the unhoused population can make taking those steps difficult.

In the Sept. 24 press conference, medical health officer Dr. Dee Hoyano acknowledged the historic lack of trust between vulnerable populations and the health care system.

Friday, Stanwick estimated approximately 30 per cent of the unhoused population is currently vaccinated against COVID-19. Island Health was unable to provide further details of how Stanwick calculated that figure.

Island Health will be introducing an incentive program immediately, he added.

Speaking to the unhoused people who have tried setting up tents in Victoria parks in lieu of safe shelter space, Eby, Stanwick and Mayor Lisa Helps were all adamant that tenting will not be an option.

“Sleeping in a tent in a park is neither a housing nor a health solution,” Helps said. Despite reports of bylaw officers confiscating supplies, Helps said officers “continue to take a compassionate and measured approach.”

Eby emphasized that the shelter system is near the breaking point though, and while they were able to find 50 new spaces this time, a further increase in COVID-19 cases could spell trouble.

“There’s hardly any give left in the system,” he said. “This work is literally bed by bed and person by person.”

READ ALSO: More supportive housing on the horizon for Victoria

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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