Our Place response to COVID-19 Pandemic
A Changing Landscape by Grant McKenzie
Our Place is not the same today as it was the day before, and it won’t be the same tomorrow.
In this strange and difficult time, my heart breaks with sorrow at the vulnerable people struggling to survive with yet another obstacle in their path, but my heart also swells with pride at the people who are stepping up to help.
Working on the frontlines is not an easy task, but add in an invisible yet potentially deadly pandemic, and you can imagine the stress that our staff is going through.
In a case of serendipity, Our Place had bolstered its Outreach team with several paramedics in response to the Fentanyl crisis that has been wreaking havoc on those suffering from addiction over the last two years. Those paramedics are now busier than ever — not with more opioid overdoses, but with treating a scared population that doesn’t fully understand our planet’s new social order.
As we move funds to where they’re most needed, adding more hours for paramedics was at the top of the list.
When I walk among the many people huddled in tents or tarps or even just a blanket, one of the first questions I get asked is: “Will the shelter still be open tonight?”
Thankfully, so far, the answer continues to be; “Yes.”
Our Place offers beds in four locations, housing around 175 people.
The question I don’t get asked is: “Where will I eat?”
The reason for that is simple. Our Place has never stopped providing three meals per day. And as this pandemic continues, we endeavour to make more food options available. Due to social distancing, our kitchen staff need to think more creatively as they plan one-bowl meals that can be safely handed out at our front gates.
We are also busy providing water, tea, coffee and milk.
The biggest challenge is that everything we need to do in the face of this pandemic is virtually the exact opposite of what Our Place is known for. Our five locations spring from one, that we call a community centre for a reason. The inside of our Pandora Avenue building is a place of hope and belonging where people can escape the social isolation brought about by stigma, shame, mental illness, and poverty.
We know that isolation leads to depression, which, sadly, can also lead to overdoses from people trying to self-medicate.
Our whole purpose is to bring people in from isolation, to offer them a dry, safe home and a feeling of family who cares enough to find them the resources and help they need.
Now, in this age of social distancing, we have to redefine ourselves; to look at our strengths and see where we can redeploy our skills and services.
In truth, we’re needed more than ever.
Our frontline team is interacting with the street population every day, accessing their needs, handing out tents, sleeping bags, and emergency supplies. Our paramedics are treating wounds, overdoses, and more than a few panic attacks. And behind the scenes, our incredible custodial team is doubling its efforts to keep our environment as sterile as possible so that our staff remains healthy enough to help those without any other resources.
We are also working hand-in-hand with our provincial and city governments, and our fellow charities to deal with a situation none of us have faced before, and one that changes daily.
When this health crisis is over, and yes I believe that is in our future, Our Place will need to rebuild. We will need to rebuild trust with the people we serve who feel, once again, they are unworthy of the same assistance and support that housed people receive. We will need to rebuild our shared vision with our supporters who have now seen what happens without Our Place in full operation. And we will need to rebuild our determined voice crying out for a better solution to homelessness, along with an increase in indoor shelter and permanent housing, so that in the future, people won’t need to pitch a tent on the streets of Pandora.
Our Place won’t be the same tomorrow as it is today, but that is not a bad thing. Thanks to your continued support, encouragement and faith, we will be stronger than ever.
Our Place Society extends heartfelt appreciation for the 2,500 donations we received in March, which was a 70% increase from this time last year, helping to offset the postponed Hungry Hearts Gala. Donor generosity fuelled the above services that we continue to provide this spring to hundreds of people awaiting indoor shelter. We also were pleased to hear of the $175,000 grant that will help with costs for the next few months, arising from the Round Three Rapid Relief Fund partnership of the Times Colonist and Victoria Foundation to which thousands of donors contributed and are now supporters of our efforts for providing basic food and shelter to hundreds of people in need.
To join our Help from Home campaign or to add your name as a meal sponsors, please contact Donor Services at 250-940-5060.
– Grant McKenzie, Director of Communications
March 16, 2020 – Our Place launches COVID-19 Emergency Plan
Feeding the most vulnerable is top priority
In response to the province’s emergency COVID-19 mandate, Our Place is closing its crowded Drop-In, but not its heart in this time of health crisis.
To comply with these stricter health guidelines, Our Place is stopping access to its drop-in space, computer lab, courtyard, hygiene, and clothing area. However, it plans to continue operating its washroom facilities, transitional housing, shelter spaces, and providing three nutritious meals per day. In fact, demand for meals has been increasing, and we are meeting that demand.
“It’s heartbreaking for us to limit access to so many vulnerable people, but it’s the only way we can meet the province’s new pandemic regulations,” says Grant McKenzie, communications director of Our Place. “However, even in a time of crisis, we need to make sure our family members are being looked after to the best of our ability.”
To reduce the potential spread of the Coronavirus to the most vulnerable, volunteer shifts have been cancelled and dedicated staff will step in to fill those roles.
“There is a lot of fear around what happens when this virus makes its way to the people we serve,” says McKenzie. “But our dedicated staff isn’t about to abandon this population. Our kitchen is already planning how it can continue to serve three meals per day on the street in front of 919 Pandora Avenue.”
Our Place is working to ensure that its staff and clients are properly protected, and practice social distancing to the best of their ability.
“In order to place people at the appropriate distance apart, we will need to rework our shelter space,” says McKenzie.
To that end, Our Place will be closing its seasonal shelter as of Wednesday, and limiting the number of people who can access shelter mats at First Met and My Place.
“People will be displaced,” says McKenzie. “We are talking with the province to see if it can help us with an alternate housing plan for those people who have nowhere to go, but until that happens, people will be forced to sleep in parks and doorways.”
The greatest needs during this time are financial donations, and to assist those we care about most as we adjust our shelters to comply with health regulations: single-person tents, sleeping bags and tarps. For donors not wishing to venture downtown, donations can be dropped off at New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community, 94 Talcott Road in View Royal, Monday to Friday, 9am to 4:30pm.
“It’s all hands on deck,” adds McKenzie. “And we need the public’s support, understanding and compassion more than ever.”
For over 50 years, Our Place has been a unique inner-city community centre serving Greater Victoria’s most vulnerable: working poor, impoverished elderly, mentally and physically challenged, addicted and the homeless. Individuals and businesses provide much of the financial support for its programs and services. Our Place provides over 1,200 meals per day, plus 1,400 snacks, hot showers, education, job skills, health care, addiction recovery services, donated clothing, counseling and outreach services, storage facility, and more; plus 45 transitional housing units and over 150 shelter spaces. Most importantly, Our Place provides a sense of hope and belonging to our neighbours in need