Response to Covid-19 in the Okanagan’s homelessness and support sector

~Shirley Piedt, Outreach committee

One of the challenges during COVID has been providing housing and programs for people who live outside. It goes without saying that preventing an outbreak of COVID-19 among those living outside is prevention for all of us.

You may recall that First United hosted a film called Us and Them over a year ago to help us understand how it is that folks become homeless, and the complexity of providing supportive housing.

The Journey Home Society became the backbone organization tasked with moving forward with strategic goals which were established after a lengthy consultation with many groups and citizens including churches, businesses, and people with lived experience of being homeless.

The following link provides background to the main report and strategic goals https://www.journeyhome.ca/

As Cheryl has adapted Tuesday and Thursday Outreach services to accommodate safety and hygiene, so have other housing and outreach services pivoted to continue to meet the needs of folks living outside.

It has become even more obvious that all people are best served when they have housing especially as so many of the usual services were either closed or reduced with physical distancing requirements in place.

To better understand the challenges and successes to date with the response to COVID in the homeless and support sector, the following summary was completed by three researchers from UBCO; Dr. Jordan Barbando, Dr. John Graham, and Kyler Woodmass who comprise the Kelowna Homelessness Research Collaborative.

CHALLENGES FOR SERVICE PROVIDERS: • Building and maintaining close relationships with service users • Social distancing within existing spaces and between service users • General safety (for all), and violence against women • Delays in mobilizing infrastructure and technology areas that service providers found challenging are: • Building and maintaining close relationships with service users • Social distancing within existing spaces and between service users • General safety (for all), and violence against women • Delays in mobilizing infrastructure and technology

SUCCESSES: Local support and sector collaboration • Mobilizing housing and hotels • Remote channels for connectivity • Circulation of public health guidance • Implementing hygiene centre and plexiglass

OPPORTUNITIES TO SCALE UP: There was a long list of suggested practices and infrastructure that included: medication delivery systems, alcohol management program, mobile isolation trailers, increased access and supply of safe substances, tent and cart storage, providing teddy bears, information boards, and service user cellphone allocations. The focus areas for further collaboration revolved around access to food services, water and hygiene stations.

NEEDS FOR SUMMER/WINTER: One of our main goals was to identify priorities in sustaining the response into colder months and through a potential second wave: • Continued communication • Mental health supports for providers • PPE / sanitizer cost and availability • Maintaining and increasing housing • Funding for additional costs

What this summary illustrates is that needs for people living outside and service delivery is different in this time of pandemic. As a church involved with outreach to this vulnerable group, we continue to ponder what our role can be moving forward to fall and winter. If you have questions or are interested in being part of next steps contact Shirley at [email protected]