The need to support Sooke’s vulnerable population through the COVID-19 pandemic was first identified through the Sooke Homeless Coalition in March. The District of Sooke Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was consulted and tasked to help plan and source resources for the project, in consultation with external agencies.
As a result of Ministerial Order M084, “For the purpose of ensuring the effective management and delivery of critical services for vulnerable populations within the Province, including food banks and shelter services, each local authority must use best efforts to provide assistance in the management and delivery of such services”, in consultation with the District and social service agencies, BC Housing partnered with the Capital Regional District (CRD) to lead the initiative. Due to its recent closure, the CRD’s SEAPARC Arena was identified as a viable location to offer Sooke’s vulnerable residents with a location to self-isolate and limit the need to move transiently around the community.
Once open, there will be capacity for 45 residents; 30 housed in the arena, and 15 residing in tents outside. Through community outreach efforts in Sooke alone, all spaces are currently spoken for – no space is being made available to populations outside of the Sooke area, referrals will not be accepted and there will be no transporting individuals from outside of Sooke.
The temporary shelter is currently scheduled to be in operation until as late as June 30, 2020, unless the province lifts the order to close recreation centres, allowing SEAPARC to open its doors to the public.
The Sooke Region Communities Health Network is responsible for site operations, with Jen Wilde acting as Director of Operations for the COVID-19 Response Isolation Shelter. Multiple resource agencies will be onsite to support a diverse set of needs, including the Sooke Shelter Society, AVI Health and Community Services, as well as Island Health.
“This is intended to be a transitional stabilization unit for those people experiencing homelessness,” said Jen Wilde.
People experiencing homelessness often have higher rates of health concerns, and as a result could be at greater risk if exposed to COVID-19. For that reason, enhanced screening and cleaning protocols are in place at the facilities to reduce the potential that this virus can spread within the building and beyond.
With public washrooms, parks and restaurants closed to the public, facilities are not as readily available. Creating an environment that helps facilitate distancing and provides access to hygiene facilities, including showers and regular hand washing helps keep everyone in Sooke safe.
“This is Sooke looking after Sooke, we’ve got some wonderful people here and we’ll get it done,” said Councillor Beddows, who also serves on the SEAPARC Commission. There will be no access to the new gym – only the arena and adjoining bathrooms.
This initiative is a strong example of multiple agencies coming together to achieve a common goal to help serve and protect members of the community.
“This project is being well managed and organized by those who have experience with vulnerable populations,” says Mayor, Maja Tait. “I trust that those that are involved will ensure that any concerns the community has, are quickly addressed.”
It is important to communicate that the SEAPARC facility is not intended to quarantine those who have contracted the COVID virus. Those who test positive will be re-located to a designated facility as part of a regional strategy.
The facility is set to open in the next few weeks.
Questions about the Provincial approach to homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this temporary initiative, can be addressed to BC Housing: firstname.lastname@example.org