Moving the homeless population into hotels, motels and other temporary indoor shelters has been a fluid situation, according to those who are helping to organize them.
There were times when the pandemic first hit where Fred Cameron, who works with SOLID Outreach — one of the organizations helping to set up ‘pop-up overdose prevention sites’ at the temporary shelters — would walk outside and take stalk of the juxtaposition of the situation.
“In the professional world, there was an absolute state of panic and then you’d step outside … everyone is living next to their friends, they didn’t really know to what degree [what was going on] in the rest of the world,” he says. “So, you know at times, I would rely on them for stability.”
From “non-stop” zoom calls, and meetings three to five times a day, Cameron says things began to solidify when the province announced under the Emergency Program Act that homeless camps in Victoria and Vancouver would be dismantled and everyone living in them would be moved inside.
“That gives them the power to enforce the act and that brought fear into the community on the street. That was where things switched. We knew that housing was coming up, but we didn’t know if there was enough,” he says. “But we started to calm down as a group. We knew we had a general picture. We knew the ball was rolling. We knew that things were moving.”
So far, four hotels have been secured as temporary shelter for the homeless population, says Cameron, along with another 50 spots for people to live at the Save-On-Food Memorial Centre. A safe consumption site has been set up at the arena with spaces for three or four people to use injection drugs, along with one at the Travelodge Hotel.
But Cameron says it’s hard to know whether they’re helping or harming the population by moving the resources off of Pandora.
“We’re at a want for resources across every level of this problem. So if we put that many resources spread out, I don’t know that we’re helping,” he says.
Kelly Reid, director of mental health and addiction service for Island Health, says the approach for harm reduction at these temporary shelter sites will be to provide as much access as possible to the “tried and true overdose prevention site model” where people are able to go into a booth, use their drugs and are supervised in case of an overdose. But he adds, “This can’t be the only strategy.”
According to Reid, all the tenants and staff will have Naloxone and be trained on how to use it.
“One type of staff that will be available in these sites are peers, or people with lived experience, who know what it’s like to face these risks and challenges and have real credibility, I think, with the population,” he says, adding they will make sure everyone at these sites know not to use alone.
“At times, they can also witness use if that’s what’s needed to ensure safety, so peers are a big part of the risk mitigation,” says Reid.
In addition, nurse practitioners will be on-site focusing on primary care, but “really it’s a broad scope or primary care because these nurses really do almost everything,” says Reid. Nurses will be going to each of the temporary shelters, and at some of the bigger sites, a clinic will be set up and run for about six hours per day.
“They’re also part of the broad team that will continually be reinforcing the messaging around safe use, providing harm reduction supplies, retrieving needles and things like that,” he says.