How do you shelter at home when you don’t have one?

During times of COVID-19, the need for a home has never been more pronounced.

While the past months have been stressful for all of us, they have also provided a chance to be still, to reconnect, to hunker down in our homes instead of running maniacally from place to place.

Except, not everyone has had that luxury.  Not everyone has a home.

COVID has exacerbated the difficult realities of people who do not have a permanent place to live, who do not have a place to isolate and be together, who do not have a place of permanence and shelter.

Those experiencing homelessness are a transient community – often sheltering in one place, then moving to another for a meal, and another for a program.  With COVID, those avenues and options have been closed.  Programs and services are no longer accessible, and once established routines – for everybody has their routines, even those who live rough – have been derailed.

For some ICCS clients, this has meant staying in programs longer than might otherwise have been the case.  For many it has been eating meals – even prepared meals – alone, and feeling more and more isolated.  For other potential clients, it has meant, quite literally ‘no vacancy’, as COVID protocols have reduced spaces and beds, leaving many with no shelter at all.

Fear is rampant.  Options are few.

Yet hope continues.  ICCS has been proud to be a part of new support being offered at Nanaimo’s Emergency Response Centre through a collaboration between BC Housing and the City of Nanaimo, where 14 emergency response centre beds for women have just opened along with 6 supportive housing beds, soon to be joined by an additional 15 emergency response centre beds for men.  These referral-beds will allow more men and women to find shelter in these difficult times.


Facts about the new Emergency Response Centre at 285 Prideaux Place: 

What is the Emergency Response Centre?

The Emergency Response Centre (ERC) at 285 Prideaux Place is a short-term facility, opened to address the increasing needs of vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis.  Since the onset of COVID-19, the increase in vulnerability of many people to marginal housing, and the concurrent decrease in absolute numbers of beds available due to COVID distancing requirements have meant that more people than ever need temporary housing support.  The ERC is an effort to address that, offering referral-based temporary housing for particularly vulnerable men and women.  The facility has a total of 35 beds – 6 supportive housing beds for women (what was Martha’s Place in the old Samaritan House), 14 Emergency Response Centre beds for especially vulnerable women, and 15 .Emergency Response Centre beds for particularly vulnerable men.

Who is funding this initiative?

The ERC facility is being supported through the City of Nanaimo and BC Housing.  Management of the facility is done by Island Crisis Care Society.

Can just anyone go there to get a place to sleep?

In order to ensure a place for the people most in need – particularly men and women overage 55 and those who have medical needs which may make them more susceptible to COVID-19 – entrance to the ERC is by referral only.

Is this a long-term facility?

The ERC is intended to function as long as COVID-19 continues to dominate our collective reality.  Eventually, though, it will be replaced by a new, long term, purpose-built facility on Nicol Street which will be an amalgam of the former Samaritan House and new beds transitioning from the ERC.

What happened to Samaritan House?

Samaritan House has been a flagship program for Island Crisis Care Society since its establishment 31 years ago, offering emergency shelter to women in crisis.  However, the facility was old and small, and in desperate need of refurbishment.  In response to this, ICCS started a campaign back in 2017 called “More Room for Hope” aiming to expand Samaritan House, offering, as the name proclaims, More Room for more people to start to have hope.  The crisis was acute.  In that year alone, 872 women in need were turned away as they were seeking shelter.  These women came from all walks of life and all ages, and all were in need.

In 2020, through a collaboration between BC Housing, the City of Nanaimo and partners, a commitment was made to create up to 300 units of new, affordable and supportive housing – including a new Samaritan House, bringing even more “room for hope” than initially imagined.

BC Housing has purchased a new, larger lot and will begin the process of working with ICCS and the community to design and build a new facility. This facility will incorporate an enhanced shelter space for women which will follow a new “Bridge to Housing” approach which is similar to how we have operated Samaritan House, supporting the most vulnerable women on their own journey to stable and healthy living. Also included in this new facility will be 40-50 units of supportive housing. A teaching kitchen, dining room, and other program spaces will provide further support for individual and community needs.  Island Crisis Care Society will remain the operator of Samaritan House. This means that we will continue to drive the programming decisions and, due to the generosity of our More Room for Hope donors, will have the ability to ensure that the new Samaritan House has the capacity to meet the needs of our clients in tangible ways.

What happens next?

What was Samaritan House has now transferred to the temporary ERC location until we move again to a new and permanent purpose-built home at 702 Nicol St. with more supportive units and improved safety systems, as announced earlier this year. The property was purchased by BC Housing earlier in 2020 along with 355 Nicol St as part of the announced housing strategy developed between the Province and the City of Nanaimo. The move is planned for some time in 2021.

What about people who can’t get a place there?

According to the 2020 Point in time survey done by the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition (ref., estimated real numbers of homelessness in Nanaimo prior to the start of COVID-19 were around 600 people.  With increasing vulnerability caused by COVID-19, it is likely these numbers will only increase.  Members of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, BC Housing and the City of Nanaimo are working together to address this reality as quickly and effectively as possible.