Sleeping pods have been added to the amalgamated shelter in the Vernon Curling Club to help ensure social distancing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Two Vernon homeless shelters, Our Place and Gateway Shelter, were combined in the curling club in early April to provide more space and resources for those experiencing homelessness during these unprecedented times.
Vernon was the first city in British Columbia to amalgamate its emergency shelters to better protect those experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.
Turning Points Collaborative Society, BC Housing, Interior Health and the City of Vernon amalgamated the two sites in the larger facility, which allows for greater physical distancing for clients and staff.
The curling club houses 70 beds, each sectioned off into a 10-by-10 area to maximize distancing, additional sanitization and portable hand-washing stations and additional PPE, including masks and scrubs, for staff.
Now, Vernon is the first community in the province to add the extra safety measure: the sleeping pods.
“Our goal throughout this pandemic has always been to protect the health and safety of our clients, staff and the community at large,” Turning Points’ executive director Randene Wejr said.
“The sleeping pods are just another in many health and safety measure we have put in place over the past several weeks.”
The pods were made possible through a partnership with BC Housing, which funds the shelter, and Turning Points, the shelter’s operator.
The sleeping pods will soon be introduced into other emergency shelters across B.C.
“All of these ‘best practices’ we have introduced have resulted due to strong partnerships with regional and local governments and organizations,” Wejr said.
“We are incredibly proud of these partnerships, not only are they proving to be beneficial for our clients and staff, but they are making communities safer and healthier for everyone right across British Columbia.”
Elsewhere in B.C., the provincial government has made agreements with a number of hotels in Victoria and Vancouver to serve as temporary supportive housing for 600 people living across three tent cities, many of whom are vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
“While a fear of COVID-19 sweeps through our communities, we must also remember there are those who are facing this pandemic without shelter and without the support which many of us take for granted,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said in a news conference in Vancouver Saturday, April 25.
“These are people with no place to isolate, no place to rest or relief from this growing global threat.”
An estimated 360 people are currently living at Victoria encampments on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park, according to BC Housing data.
Roughly 300 people continue to live at Oppenheimer Park, located on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Since coming into power in 2017, the Horgan government has secured 2,749 spaces across the province.
But in March, as B.C.’s top doctor declared the COVID-19 pandemic a provincial health emergency, many were reminded that this marks the second health crisis in the province – the first being the ongoing opioid crisis, which was deemed a provincial health emergency by Dr. Bonnie Henry’s predecessor, Dr. Perry Kendall.
“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,” said Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson.
In early April, community coordinators in Smithers put together a BC Housing project that saw 8- 10 people relocated from the town core to a temporary camp on the outskirts of town. The camp is a collection of six tents (five residential and one for cooking) surrounding a central area with picnic tables and fire pit.
Smithers Deputy Mayor Gladys Atrill said the project — which came together in just over a week — is a step forward for Smithers, and could be a model for other communities working on the issue of homelessness.
“I think this is a responsible move, it provides protection for a vulnerable group of people and creates some protection for them and other citizens in view of viral infection,” she said. “I am pretty proud of what people have done; I think it’s a really nice community story.”