Coronavirus: Kelowna’s Gospel Mission expands outreach program to help homeless amid pandemic

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Kelowna Gospel Mission expands outreach program – Mar 27, 2020

As the number of coronavirus cases continue to grow in B.C., and within the Interior Health region, so do concerns for the homeless population.

“We are monitoring very carefully but obviously it is a concern for us because probably homeless shelters are the worst place where the COVID-19 could break out,” said Randy Benson, executive director at Kelowna’s Gospel Mission.

In addition to enhanced cleaning protocols at the Leon Avenue shelter, operators are trying to put in as many social-distancing measures in place as possible, but, with clients bunking in the same room, it’s a challenge.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Kelowna’s homeless services change due to outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic

“We have been able to space our beds apart a little farther, we’re trying to put in dividers between beds to create that barrier, so we are doing everything we can with the space and facility we have,” Benson said.

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To help prevent the spread of the virus, the Gospel Mission was forced to suspend its daytime drop-in program, which allows anyone in need to access meals and other essentials.

But to continue supporting those in need, the Gospel Mission has expanded its outreach program.

“To compensate for that closure, what we’ve done is expanded to two outreach teams, two people each,” Benson said.

“Those teams go out and they find people . . . we take out three meals a day for them, along with other supplies, like blankets, clothing, first aid, medications they may need.”

READ MORE: Advocate warns of ‘catastrophic’ human cost without urgent coronavirus action for DTES

Benson said many homeless people have actually left the downtown core and dispersed in other parts of the city — something he believes is directly connected to the pandemic.

“I think the people we serve are very creative in the way they take care of themselves, so, yeah, they are dispersing so they can take care of themselves and avoid the virus,” Benson said.

Benson said the expanded outreach service is critical to providing support to those who aren’t registered clients at the shelter.

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“A big part of what we did through our shelter was also to take care of people who weren’t necessarily registered as guests. We don’t want to leave those people out in the cold, so to speak and so if we weren’t doing this, it’s very possible these people would be in a dire situation,” he said.

As for the shelter and the 40-plus clients currently there, Benson said work is underway on contingency plans should the shelter experience an outbreak of COVID-19.

“We have limited access to isolation within our shelter, so we are working with other shelter providers and B.C. Housing to possibly find other facilities where people who do have symptom, they’d be able to isolate there, ” Benson said.

READ MORE: B.C. ‘cautiously optimistic’ about COVID-19 forecast, but warns hospitals could still be overwhelmed

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