First United Pandemic Response: COVID19 Update March 19, 2020

These are challenging times. As we continue to serve the community we love so much, First United is monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic closely and taking steps to respond to keep everyone safe. I wanted to reach out to share with you what we’re doing. 

We know that this pandemic will hurt people already marginalized the mostpeople living in poverty, those without housing or in cramped and substandard housing, low-wage and gig-economy workers, people who use drugs, people with disabilities or with poor health, sex workers, and migrant workers. Social distancing in response to the pandemic is so hard when you’re homeless or in substandard housing. Stocking up on supplies isn’t possible when you’re already living hand-to-mouth. Our resources – already stretched thin to serve our community – will be truly tested.

COVID-19 presents us with significant challenges, but I am heartened by what’s possible when we work together. We have been adjusting our services to make sure our community does not get left out in the cold. Below, I have shared details of our pandemic response plan.

I want to share my immense gratitude for the donations that continue to come in. This support keeps our operations going, and allows us to be as responsive as we can in this troubling time. If you have been able to support: Thank you. If you are able, we are in critical need of your donations to keep our community safe.

First United Pandemic Response principles:

  • We will prioritize the health and safety of everyone in the First United community
  • We will monitor and implement the evolving recommendations of Public Health officials
  • We will maintain our essential services, while adjusting their delivery to minimize the risk of transmission and keep our community safe
  • We will stay in regular communication with our low-barrier service provider neighbours to coordinate resources
  • We will continue to implement additional, more frequent sanitation measures to clean all surfaces, with a focus on high-touch areas
  • We will communicate actively with First United staff and community on public health measures, as well as how to prevent and recognize COVID-19

Thanks to the efforts and creativity of our staff, we have not closed any essential programming, aside from public access to showers. (Showers are still available for our shelter guests.)

We have made adjustments to how we offer critical services to our community, to minimize the spread of infection.

Service changes:

  • Community Meals: We have adjusted our meal service to minimize the risk of virus transmission. Hot meals for the community are now served “to-go” at our front doors on East Hastings Street. This limits crowding inside, and means that we can limit indoors public gatherings to fewer than 50 people, as directed by the Provincial Health Authority.
  • Drop-in: Building space closed, to ensure social distancing and limit gatherings to <50 people. This will also create space for shelter beds to be spread out around the building. Services and supplies normally accessed will still be available at the front doors. This allows us to continue connecting with our community but limit transmission.
  • Shelter: We have implemented social distancing principles for our shelter guests and are using space in the drop-in to further distance shelter beds.
  • Showers: Showers are still available for our shelter guests. General public access to showers is closed. Public showers are available at the Evelyne Saller Centre, 320 Alexander St.
  • Community Help Desk: Items normally distributed from the Help Desk will be available by request at our East Hastings Street entrance: information, toiletries & hygiene products, water, harm reduction supplies, socks & underwear, pet food and other sundries.
  • Tax Clinics: Our community can continue to drop off their tax information for filing by staff and volunteers. Very shortly, staff at the front door will have checklists and envelopes for this purpose. Staff will also do tax outreach to other service providers on the Downtown Eastside. In-person tax clinics will be on hold for at least the next two weeks. We appreciate the federal government extending the tax filing deadline in response to the pandemic.
  • Weekend Worship Services: We will share information about live-streaming weekend worship services for participants in our spiritual care programs.
  • Naloxone kitstraining and refills: Available by request at our Hastings St entrance.
  • Legal Advocacy: Open for intake, with measures to reduce the number of people gathering. Please call ahead if possible to ensure your matter requires an in-person meeting and arrange a time to come in. This allows staff to manage the number of people waiting to see our advocates at one time.
  • Memorials: We encourage community who have lost a loved one to reach out to Rev. Jim – but we are asking all community members to considerholding memorials after the acute danger has passed.

Additional Actions: 

We will partner with local United Church congregations to take pressure off of food banks and ensure shut-ins currently living in our housing have access to adequate food and care packages from the wider community. Watch the Pacific Mountain Region communications emails and an update directly to our supporters coming soon for more information.

Our first priority remains people: our incredible and dedicated staff, our shelter residents and tenants in our housing, the Downtown Eastside community and our broader community of support. I’m holding you all in my thoughts and prayers. We will get through this together.

Clean hands, open hearts.⁠