Pray for homeless forced from shelters – manager of Vancouver hostel

By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – If you thought you were seeing more homeless people on the streets these days, you were right.

Scott Small, manager of Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel, said COVID-19 health and safety measures have forced many shelters downtown to reduce their services, with the unintended consequences of leaving more people on the streets.

“We’re seeing hundreds more people out on the streets than there were on the streets two weeks ago,” Small told The B.C. Catholic March 26, 2020.

The shelter, which was offering overnight stays to 125 homeless men a few weeks ago, now can host only 75.

“We’re not alone. All the shelters are down by at least 10 per cent. It’s tragic,” he said. “I’d say at least 400 more are outside physically, amassed from all of our [Vancouver] shelters.”

There are several reasons for the dramatic rise in people on the streets, Small said. For one, government-imposed social distancing measures require people at least two metres distance between individuals to prevent potential spreading of the new coronavirus. The dorm rooms in his 60-year-old hostel are just too tight to house 125 men under that restriction.

“Guys who are physically able are literally packing up massive backpacks and going to the bush and waiting it out,” he said. “Guys who can get out, get out.”

The average age of shelter clients is especially troubling. Before the virus broke out, half the men who stayed at the hostel were over age 55, putting them at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Small is also facing a staff shortage, while employees who continue coming to work are grappling with questions they never faced before.

“We’re seeing people who have spouses that are working from home, and kids having to be at home, and they are concerned that, as they are an essential service, they have to come to an extremely tense operation. The challenge is not necessarily that our guests are going to give it to us, but the pressure that we are possibly going to infect them, and that’s a lot for a soul to carry,” said Small.

At the same time, he faces the shortage of masks, hand sanitizer, and other protective gear so many groups are encountering. “We were never equipped to be medically or clinically based. We’re hospitality based.”

With even hospitals struggling to find enough masks, shelter managers like Small are finding creative ways to source protective equipment. He’s received distillery-made sanitizers and hand-sewn masks and even had staff stapling paper towels and rubber bands into makeshift face coverings for guests in the absence of anything else.

The shelter has also had to increase food services. Typically, it would serve about 25 guests who couldn’t get themselves a meal from a nearby McDonald’s restaurant or soup kitchen. But with many kitchens closing or offering limited services, Small has doubled the number of meals offered at the hostel and is giving them away in take-out style containers.

The storage of dry goods and frozen goods is stocked up in case of more difficult times to come.

Saskatoon Friendship Inn adapting services to feed neighbours in need during COVID-19 shutdown: ARTICLE

Pope Francis prays for the homeless during coronavirus pandemic: LINK

The Door is Open (DIO), a downtown drop-in centre in Vancouver that serves free meals to the poor and homeless 365 days of the year, is also facing difficult times.

Manager Frances Cabahug said the centre has had to close its dine-in services, counselling programs, and clothing donation bin, volunteers now only offering take-out meals through the doors and windows, keeping a two-metre distance from their clients and each other.

Her team used to serve about 250 meals at lunchtime. Now, she says, they’re stretching to feed as many as 400, with the lineup circling the block.

“It’s a bit difficult because we’re making more food, for sure, but we don’t have the volunteers coming in.”

In pre-virus days, weekends at DIO were filled with church or school groups bustling around preparing meals out of ingredients they brought themselves.
Now, “sometimes it’s seven, sometimes it’s four, sometimes it’s 10 of us making the food that 20 people would have made.”

Cabahug never had to worry about food availability before, but with volunteers staying home and bulk stores like Costco packed with shoppers and empty of staples like bread or frozen hotdogs, she’s had to spend more time than ever finding food. Fortunately, some local restaurants that have shut down or decreased their own services have been donating bread and perishables.

“That has been helping us through the shortages,” she said.

The DIO also keeps a pantry stocked with an estimated three weeks’ worth of non-perishables, though “we are very careful because we don’t know how long this will last.”

BC Housing says it recognizes the particularly difficult situations of the homeless these days and is working on “swift action” to protect vulnerable people. So far, that has resulted in a ban on evictions for people who can’t afford to pay rent in BC Housing-funded buildings and identifying places for homeless people to self-isolate.

DTES Response, a newly formed group working to prevent the spread of COVID-19, is encouraging those not living or providing essential services in the Downtown Eastside to stay out of the community.It also asking for donations of food, cellphones, and money for those in need of food, hygiene, and ways to stay connected.

Meanwhile, Small is hoping the Catholic community continues to do what it does best for the vulnerable and those caring for them during the crisis. He wants them to pray.

“I’ll never be able to go to order from a catalogue or go to any government warehouse and get prayer,” he said.

“Prayer works and it’s one of our foundations. It’s an opportunity for our Church to do something miraculous.”