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Vancouver's homeless have few options for refuge from hazardous, hazy air: UGM

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Sep 12, 2020 at 5:39 pm PST

(CityNews photo)

The air quality warning underscores how difficult it is for people who are homeless to keep themselves safe, healthy

The Union Gospel Mission is opening up their drop-in centre to allow those at risk to stay indoors

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — People in Metro Vancouver are being told to stay indoors due to smoky skies — but that is an impossible feat for the unhoused.

Jeremy Hunka, spokesperson for the Union Gospel Mission on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside says this is yet another example of how homeless people do not have the opportunity to protect themselves from an urgent health hazard.

“People who are homeless obviously don’t have the same opportunities to get inside. To get out of the poor air quality. We know that a high population that is homeless is already struggling with pre-existing health conditions,” Hunka says.

The large mass of smoke moving through this province from wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California has resulted in an air quality advisory.

Metro Vancouver recommends that people who are immunocompromised, or with underlying health issues stay inside as breathing outside can feel uncomfortable due to smoke particles entering the lungs and potentially the bloodstream.

RELATED: Vancouver air quality among worst in the world due to distant U.S. wildfires

The air quality advisory in B.C. combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how difficult it is for the most marginalized communities in this province to stay safe.

“The scope of the need is far greater than we as a region are dealing with. We need to do better in a region — this is yet another example of how people are vulnerable and in danger.”

The pandemic has made it extremely difficult for people to take refuge at the UGM’s emergency shelter.

“There are fewer places and the spaces that are open are limited because of social distancing protocols. “There will be probably about 72 people inside thankfully who otherwise might be outside and who might be more vulnerable and susceptible,” Hunka says.

Hunka adds, throughout the weekend, the UGM will be opening up their drop-in centre to allow those at risk to stay indoors.

With files from Kareem Gouda