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DTES community groups organize response to COVID-19

Photo credit: Emma Jackson via Flickr

A group of organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has mobilized to support vulnerable members of the community during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

DTES Response is an effort to raise $100,000 to help prevent the spread of coronavirus by meeting the immediate needs of residents who are losing income and may not have access to critical items such as food and cell phones.

Four frontline community organizations—the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaboration (SRO-C), Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS), Friends of CCAP (Carnegie Community Action Plan) and Overdose Prevention Society (OPS)—are looking for donations to create a stop-gap plan to mitigate challenges associated with the spread of COVID-19. Though the initiative is a collaborative effort, Wendy Pederson, organizer of the SRO-C, organized a discussion that led to the response.

“This situation is serious and it is urgent,” said Pederson in a March 23 news release. “In a neighbourhood where space, food, supplies, and everything is shared, if we have one infection, it could decimate this entire community. Living conditions are already dire, and this is only going to get worse if we don’t act now.”

According to DTES Response, as many as 15,000 people in the neighbourhood are at risk of contracting coronavirus, including 3,000 people without homes and another 4,700 living in single room occupancy hotels, where shared amenities make self-isolation and social distancing very challenging. Services that have traditionally provided food to members of the community, like soup kitchens, have temporarily shut down, while stock in food banks is extremely limited.

“When people have to self-isolate, how are we communicating with them? Needs like cell phones as well as food, and loss of income are the major priorities,” said Amanda Burrows, DTES Response media representative to Inside the Jar by phone.

Burrows said organizers are in constant contact with the City of Vancouver, and that things are changing “every hour”, but could not comment on the city’s latest announcements on providing hotel rooms to homeless people. In an effort to reduce the spread of germs, the city has installed several handwashing stations in the area.

The DTES Response initiative comes as News 1130 reports that according to frontline workers, the supply of drugs on the Downtown Eastside is dwindling as border closures have prevented illicit drugs from making it to market.

The COVID-19 outbreak has also had an effect on the way frontline workers are responding to overdoses. The BC Centre for Disease Control’s Harm Reduction Services initiative, Toward the Heart, is advising that those responding to overdoses do not use bag valve masks or administer re.scue breathing as it could increase the risk of spread.

DTES Response is asking that non-residents please avoid visiting the Downtown Eastside during this time. Donations to the initiative can be made here.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.