Aldergrove residents have sheltered at home to avoid being infected with a life-threatening disease during the ongoing pandemic.
But for those without a home, avoiding potential carriers of COVID-19 in public, is far from easy.
For many people facing homelessness within Langley, “the least of their worries is social distancing,” explained Lookout Housing and Health Society program manager, Susan Keeping.
That’s because “all of these other basic needs are not being met,” she elaborated.
This includes hygiene.
They no longer have access to public park washrooms, rec centre showers, or non-profits to clean the clothes on their backs.
Two men in Aldergrove without a place to call their own were keeping each other company on Thursday afternoon downtown.
Andreas Hoffman said he hasn’t been able to shower in weeks due the pandemic.
“Everything is closed,” the nearly 60 year old groaned, mentioning that even the Philip Jackman Park washroom he and others in the community would use, has been locked up during the pandemic.
“I, at least, wanted to shave my face,” Hoffman said, “I don’t want to look homeless.”
Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope in Langley – which provided free shower and laundry facilities each week – had to shutter its laundry and shower offerings to minimize COVID spread.
This has meant the outdoors is being used, as a last resort, in place of closed public washrooms.
“When you’re homeless you can’t self isolate,” Keeping continued, “There’s just nowhere to go.”
The social worker noted that safety is often found in numbers – especially for those who are addicted to illicit substances and use the buddy system to ensure help can be quickly administered if one of them overdoses.
Another question on their minds in order to self-isolate, she said, is: “Do I get beat up today because I’m camping alone or risk my things getting stolen?”
Hotel rooms help Langley’s homeless self-isolate
One way the non-profit is tackling the issue – with support from B.C.’s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction – is by providing people living on Langley streets a hotel room to self-isolate.
In the last week of March, 27 people were put up in Langley hotels using federal funds from a COVID-19 Reaching Home contract.
Keeper said Lookout will have likely housed another 20 people in hotels before or during May.
“The ones we placed were very concerned because they’d be the ones with less of a chance of survival” if they contracted COVID-19, Keeping explained. They were people with a sole or comorbid heart and lung disease.
Housing these populations in hotels has done well to ensure that beds are readily available at Langley’s only emergency shelter, the Gateway of Hope.
For those not in hotels, Lookout workers have been handing bottles of soap, water, and hand wipes, in place of the showers and bathrooms so desperately needed.
Hoffman, an Aldergrove resident who just five months ago became homeless, said he’s used a bar of soap to keep himself clean.
He told the Aldergrove Star he walks ten hours each day to reach the spot where his sleeps each night, in his tent.
Hoffman worries that being put up in a hotel would mean being far away from his Aldergrove friends in similar situations.
Brett Matthews, 60, is one of those buddies.
“We look after each other,” Hoffman added, noting that if he did stay at a local inn, “I’d want to be able to pay for it – somehow.”
A plan for hotel-dwellers
But what happens to those in hotels when the reality of COVID-19 finally dies down?
Keeping said Lookout has created a plan for each tenant, one that seeks to bridge them into supportive, regular housing.
“It feels irresponsible to let them live there and just take it away,” she emphasized.
As such, the non-profit is currently on the lookout for basement suites for rent in Langley, ones those are open to an arrangement.
“What we are paying for a hotel each month is the same as a suite here in Langley,” Keeping added, estimating the cost at anywhere from $1,200 t0 $1,400.