Front line health workers are calling on the provincial government to do more for the homeless population amidst the the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter the BC Ministry of Health, BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, BC Housing, BC Ministry of Poverty Reduction, street nurses, researchers and homeless advocates lay out 12 priorities to help the city’s most vulnerable.
One of the advocates is Corey Ranger, a registered nurse who works with vulnerable populations in Victoria’s downtown core. Since the pandemic began, he said, things have become worse for the region’s homeless population and aren’t looking any better.
“People who are homeless or using drugs weren’t the original people vulnerable to COVID-19, those were travellers,” Ranger said. “However, they’re the ones feeling the brunt of the impact.”
The issue is that people without homes can’t adhere to provincial health policies issued in relation to the virus. Most shelters have closed, and those that remain open still have issues with crowding. Additionally, people can’t regularly access information or do online self-assessment tests without regular access to a cell phone or the internet – something that is much more difficult now that computer labs at shelters have shut down and since libraries closed.
On top of that, there are no handwashing stations situated around downtown Victoria for use by the public, and limited access to clean water and hand sanitizer.
“People who are homeless can’t self-isolate, so we’re giving them advice that doesn’t match up with their needs,” Ranger said. “They’re the ones at risk of being infected, since so many have pre-existing health conditions.”
At any given time, he added, there are approximately 160 people lined up in makeshift shelters along Pandora Avenue, none of whom can meet social distancing protocols.
On top of the COVID-19 crisis the opioid crisis is still ongoing, but with border closures, accessibility to drugs has seen a steep dive.
“That means people are taking more risks and going to dealers they don’t know,” Ranger said. “Dealers are cutting their drugs with more things to make up for the shortage.”
This is why one of the recommendations put forward in the letter is access to safe drugs – including both illicit and legal.
“If all of a sudden if there’s no pubs or liquor stores, people dependant on alcohol can go into withdrawal and die, so we need the government to step up.”
The letter also calls for more income support, for overdose prevention services to be deemed an essential service, to establish mobile testing centres, to provide more nursing support and to lift the ban on camping in parks.