Our Place Society will close its seasonal shelter two weeks early and plans to serve daily meals outdoors to meet stricter health regulations enacted Tuesday in the province’s fight against COVID-19.
The society will provide bagged meals three times a day on the street outside Our Place to prevent the spread of the virus through close contact in large groups, as well as shared dishes and cutlery.
The change from bulk cooking to individual meals will come at an extra cost, said communications director Grant McKenzie.
“Right now, Our Place is really in need of financial donations, because a lot of the food we would normally get donated is for an entirely different type of meal than what we’re going to serve now on the street,” he said.
The changes come after the province’s top doctor declared a public-health emergency Tuesday in response to the spread of COVID-19. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 83 new cases, bringing the province’s total up to 186, including 12 on Vancouver Island. Seven people have died in B.C.
The early shelter closure at Our Place will mean the loss of 35 beds, and the society is looking for single-person tents, sleeping bags and tarps for clients.
The society is also closing its computer lab, courtyard, hygiene area, clothing area and drop-in space. Thirty-two spaces in the year-round 62-bed shelter will move into the drop-in space in order to allow adequate distance between clients.
While the novel coronavirus hasn’t hit the street-involved community yet, McKenzie expects it will.
“We do know eventually the virus will make its way down to the street level. And it will hit the people that we serve especially hard because they’re already immune-compromised. So we know that is just going to be heartbreaking, because our medical system is already overrun,” he said.
It will be difficult for Our Place clients to follow public-health guidelines to self-isolate, McKenzie said.
The society is talking to the province about possible solutions, which might involve using venues left empty in the wake of widespread self-isolation.
“With tourism being down, there are a lot of hotels that are empty. That could be one possibility. Another possibility could be — because the games are cancelled — perhaps we could take over the baseball field [at Topaz Park] because there’s washrooms there, and we could set up a small, supervised tent city for people,” McKenzie said.
Our Place has also cancelled all volunteer shifts to reduce the risk to its 800 volunteers and clients. Staff are now filling volunteer roles on top of their regular work.