Major organization like Red Cross needed to run Victoria homeless camp, prevent COVID-19 outbreak, doctor says

“It is ostensibly a refugee camp.”

That is how physician Ami Brosseau describes the situation at Victoria’s designated homeless camp in Topaz Park, where approximately 200 people with nowhere else to go are sleeping in donated tents to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The camp is managed by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which consists of local housing, health and social service providers and government and business partners.

Brosseau said staff are working diligently with what resources and knowledge they have, but said the situation is too complex, and too dire, for them to keep operating without expert help from a large relief organization.

“We need to seek assistance from an outside agency, either Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or the Red Cross, that have experience managing camps like this,” said Brosseau on Monday on CBC’s On The Island.

Brosseau, who is currently working with the Inner City COVID Response Team created by Island Health, visited the site Saturday to discuss setting up a clinical space for nurses to work privately on patients in a park building, something he says is critically needed.

He said outreach nurses have been working out of backpacks since the site opened at the end of March. Brosseau also said nurses were asked to leave the camp during the past weekend because of concerns for their safety.

Victoria police have reported an increase in calls to the area near Topaz Park since mid-March.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that the task we have been given is a little more complicated than we are prepared to deal with,” said Brosseau.

Outbreak concerns

Island Health recently set up an on-call physician support line that nurses at Topaz Park can call to connect with a doctor. Brosseau is one of those doctors and says he does not have the capacity to do more than what he is trained for.

“I’m just a doctor, I am not a disaster-preparedness specialist,” he said, adding professionals who co-ordinate the logistics of refugee camps should be brought in before it is too late.

“I worry that we have set up conditions for an outbreak here at this camp and we are not ready for it yet,” said Brosseau.

On April 16, the City of Victoria voted on a motion to ask the province to use its powers under the Emergency Program Act to requisition hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness in B.C.

Mayor Lisa Helps said Thursday the city has also secured 35 hotel rooms for those without shelter and that B.C. Housing has been trying to negotiate with hotel and motel owners for additional spaces.

In a release April 7, B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said it had secured 900 spaces at 23 sites including hotels, motels and community centres throughout B.C. for people in need to shelter in place indoors.

Brosseau said he would like to see more funding from all level of governments to ensure security, fire safety, medical and cleaning services are expertly managed at the camp for as long as it remains.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at [email protected].  

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