COVID-19 prompts Union Gospel Mission to activate pandemic plan to protect vulnerable on DTES

They’re already vulnerable, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic, their situation can be deadly. As Travis Prasad reports, the Union Gospel Mission has activated a pandemic plan to keep the homeless safe.


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Vancouver organization that provides shelter and services for people on the Downtown Eastside experiencing homelessness is taking measures to protect their vulnerable clients from COVID-19.

As a proactive precaution, Union Gospel Mission is implementing its pandemic plan.

“We don’t have any indication right now that COVID-19 is present in our community but we know that our community, our homeless guests and those in and around the Downtown Eastside that we’re serving, are among the more vulnerable,” spokesperson Jeremy Hunka explains.

“They often have health conditions, or compromised immune systems so that means they would be among the hardest hit if COVID-19 became more widespread in our region.”

The plan includes cancelling group tours of the organization, assembling an emergency management team, and stepping up sanitation.

“If things deteriorate and become drastically different, as they have in other parts of the world, the things that we could look at doing might include suspending some non-essential services,” he says.

That could mean calling off some drop-in programs, or offering meals to-go to instead of packing hundreds into the cafeteria each day, but Hunka stresses no programs have been changed or cancelled yet.

“We want to be prepared in case the virus becomes more widespread, so we have a plan to keep people as safe as possible.”

Workers and volunteers are being advised to stay home if sick, but Hunka says staffing has not been affected.

The UGM’s pandemic plan was first put together in 2009 during the H1N1 outbreak in Metro Vancouver.

With files from Paul James.

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