Do-it-yourself handwashing stations, with a foot pump, a tap and clean water, have been placed and maintained downtown for residents of the Pandora Street tent city. Some, like this one, have a piece missing but generally the makeshift stations are used hands free. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Frontline volunteers bring handwashing stations to Pandora tent city and beyond

‘The basic premise of this is to fight COVID-19 … right?’

To combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, a group of resilient residents have manufactured handmade, do-it-yourself instructions that turn a bucket into a sink.

Count the First Arbutus Scouts among the community members who crafted a hand wash station based on instructions from the internet. Done right, the stations are hands-free with a foot pump that drives the clean water out of the bucket and through a tap off the side.

Five of the stations were placed among the residents of the Pandora Avenue tent city, the Rock Bay tent city and more around town at undisclosed ‘camping’ spots. The unofficial program is led by the six-person Indigenous Harm Reduction Team, also known as IHRT, or “I-heart.” They are a group of frontline volunteers that formed six months ago to focus specifically on vulnerable members of the Indigenous population. They’ve partnered with AIDS Vancouver Island.

READ ALSO: B.C. worker advocate group calls for more sick days, protected medical leave

“We’re making them and filling them as there were no [reliable options for handwashing] on Pandora, which is a group we serve,” said Trish Pal of IHRT. “Handwashing the most effective response to COVID-19, these are critical.”

Tent cities have become cyclical in Greater Victoria and the Pandora gathering is the latest, though the City of Victoria does have plans to make Topaz and other parks available in an effort to support social distancing for those experiencing homelessness. On March 30, the City of Victoria moved 27 people off the street and into hotel rooms.

“If we were really concerned about keeping homeless people safe, we would be getting everyone indoors, first into private hotel rooms, then into permanent, social housing,” said Ashley Mollison, Victoria Tenant Action Group.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Victoria moves homeless into 35 hotel rooms across the city

“COVID-19 has made the existing housing crisis worse,” Mollison said. “Spontaneous tent cities are forming around the few services that remain open and where people can be close to their communities for survival.”

In the meantime, the most important action is to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, Pal said.

Except for Pal, the IHRT team is made up of ‘peers’ of the community that is stigmatized for substance use, either currently or formerly.

Members now manage the five Pandora stations on a daily rotation and are driving to remote camp locations for campers isolating themselves.

“A lot of services shut down and there are hardly any bathrooms available, and the bathrooms that are available are only during specified hours,” Pal said. “If the city was going to respond you think they would put out handwashing stations, if the basic premise of this [emergency] is to fight COVID-19 … right?”

There are instructions on the internet for those with the DIY acumen to install a makeshift foot pump, pipe and tap to draw water through the pipe and tap. The user simply washes their hands with soap and rinses the soapy water and residue into the bucket.

“They’re needed everywhere, like, if stores are open they should have them out front before anyone goes in,” Pal said.

There are other makeshift handwashing creations around town, such as 1625 Rebecca St. in North Park, where the resident on-site put out a hose at the end of the driveway with some soap and an offer to anyone to use their phone (including long-distance) by request.

READ MORE: Inside Victoria’s tent city: “I’m still human”

“Anyone who wants a handwashing station from us can have one, just let us know where you are at, we will not disclose your (camping) location and do our best to bring you one,” Pal said.

People seeking a hand wash station can email indigenousharmreductionteam@gmail.com.

The IHRT team is now working on building and delivering wellness kits with anti-inflammatories and pain-killers such as Tylenol and Advil, and including vitamins.

Those wishing to donate to the cause can visit bit.ly/3dIXn0D.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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