Hope’s emergency shelter braces for COVID-19

District’s homeless serving organization deals with food shortage scare, preparation at 20-bed shelter

An organization serving Hope’s residents who are homeless is preparing for the spread of the coronavirus while remaining open.

The Hope and Area Transition Society runs a 20-bed shelter, as well as the Jean Scott Transition House for women at risk of or experiencing family violence. Both of these are open and staff continue to work says executive director Gerry Dyble.

Food scarcity scare

With grocery chains across the province seeing a rush on food supplies, toilet paper and sanitization products, stores including Save-on-Foods have had to put limits on what individual shoppers can buy.

When the shelter cook attempted to buy the week’s food for the shelter from Hope’s Save-on Friday, Dyble said he was prevented from doing so due to these limits.

“It’s unfortunate because we had a philosophy that we want to shop local and we did so, and now we’re stuck in a position that we can’t get food for our shelter clients,” Dyble said.

The organization only buys food a week in advance, and relies on a local grocer instead of bulk suppliers. The problem has been temporarily solved, with Ruth and Naomi’s Mission in Chilliwack offering to place an order for HATS when needed.

Local store managers said they were not able to speak with media during this time, referring questions to the media team. In an email to the Hope Standard, the media team stated they are “still here to help.”

“We are implementing our emergency response system with our community partners and have asked our store managers to reroute these requests into our team so we can address them,” the grocery chain stated.

Keeping ‘essential services’ running

While other Canadians are being told to stay home, self isolation and even social distancing is not possible within the shelter on Old Hope Princeton Way. That’s why containment is the focus, Dyble said. This means only the shelter clients can access the washrooms and other spaces in the shelter.

Dyble said Fraser Health and BC Housing are also working with municipalities to find isolation spaces. These could be community centres, or hotel rooms – utilized in case someone at the shelter tests positive for COVID-19. HATS is also preparing for this eventuality by hiring temporary shelter workers – according to a job ad, the workers would be providing coverage at the emergency shelter “if or when we require isolation centres.”

Staff are still working Dyble said, but are taking precautions include safe distancing, washing their hands, disinfecting and upping the cleaning of the areas they work.

Clients who are facing homelessness often present with coughs due to their often compromised health Dyble said, but if they did would be given a mask and have a self-assessment done and have them connect with a healthcare provider if they present with any additional symptoms.

The shelter is full at the moment and any new person wishing to make use of the shelter would be taken through the self-assessment tool.

For people living outdoors, Dyble said HATS is doing wellness checks in camps and handing out sandwiches. One-on-one sessions are still ongoing for all of the organization’s other programs. “We’re still trying to maintain some connection with folks. Because they’re already isolated, and now they’re further isolated as a result of this,” she said.

Nowhere to pee ?

While initially planning to close its office on 4th Avenue and conduct as much of its work over the phone, Dyble said the doors are now open again for their clients. This was in response to the District of Hope closing its public washrooms Thursday.

“We’re challenged here in Hope,” Dyble said. “Because there isn’t any other resources for our vulnerable population to utilize.”

The District of Hope announced this week, after closing public washrooms, that portable toilets and hand wash stations are set up behind the closed washrooms in Memorial Park. The washrooms are handicap-accessible, the district stated, and “will best safeguard against transmission of the COVID-19 virus by ensuring single use access and appropriate spacing.”

Several local businesses who may have offered public washrooms have now either of their own initiative, or have been mandated to shut their doors. Bans are currently in place on in-house dining at restaurants across the province, and on Saturday salons, massage parlours and other “personal services establishments” were told to close on the orders of provincial medical health officer Dr Bonnie Henry.

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