A short-term plan to provide housing and support for Cowichan Valley’s homeless during the COVID-19 crisis is being put in place.
The plan calls for using existing shelters, local hotels and motels and the establishment of tenting sites, with locations to be announced, that will allow those that are homeless or precariously housed to shelter-in-place with the appropriate food and other services for 30 days during the health crisis.
John Horn, executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association, said the City of Duncan appointed the CHA to lead a joint task force to develop the plan at the advice of BC Housing.
He said the plan, and its budget, has been submitted to BC Housing and Emergency Management BC, and its implementation is expected to begin this week.
Medium-term and longer-term plans, including a post-COVID-19 transition plan, are also being developed.
Horn said the recent homeless count, which was conducted on March 12 by the CHA, reported that 137 people need housing in the region, so the joint task force already have a sense of how many people in the Valley need access to shelter, and where they currently are.
“We know this number  doesn’t capture everyone, but it gives us a good starting place for creating the response plans,” he said.
“Our organization is committed to finding permanent long-term affordable housing solutions. However, at this time we recognize the need to find temporary emergency housing solutions and we are working diligently with our partners to make this happen.”
The COVID-19 Task Force for Vulnerable Populations met electronically for the first time on March 20, with representation from service organizations, Island Health, local governments, First Nations, school district, health care professionals, community members, and peer representatives.
The Task Force spent countless hours during the next week developing the plan to house and support homeless people, which includes providing opportunities for access to washroom and shower facilities, health supports, healthy food, and temporary accommodations to encourage people to shelter in place.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, existing emergency shelters in the area are challenged to continue to operate at their prior capacity, so the need for additional supportive housing in the community is now greater than ever.
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said she is not surprised at how quickly the plan came together.
“This is what we do in Cowichan: we connect, we stay strong and we don’t give up,” she said.
“Together, we will find a way to ensure that everyone has a place to be safe, housed and supported.”
Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau added that the community’s response to the urgent needs for the Cowichan’s homeless population has been exemplary.
She said that from the beginning, task force members have worked tirelessly to identify solutions for this community,
“It makes me feel proud to represent the Cowichan Valley when I see this collaborative effort, from hotels offering accommodation for homeless people, to front-line workers finding creative ways to continue food services through increasingly challenging circumstances,” Furstenau said.
“I am hopeful this effort will keep our community safe and healthy as we work together through this pandemic.”