Canadian Mental Health Association’s ‘New Horizons’ Clubhouse in Port Alberni. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Alberni Valley agencies focus on vulnerable citizens as concern over COVID-19 grows

CMHA coordinates efforts so people living in poverty ‘don’t get missed’

Agencies that deal with the Alberni Valley’s most vulnerable residents came together this week to make sure food and other resources are available for those in need if the area is hit with the coronavirus.

The Port Alberni chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) called a meeting with the PA Shelter Society, Bread of Life, Island Health and the ACRD to plan for the eventuality of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The CMHA called the meeting trying to create a working group for when this city’s frontline services go to minimal staff—not knowing what our staffing levels are going to be,” CMHA executive director Katrina Kiefer said.

“We’re just at the planning stages And it’s really hard to make a plan when you don’t know what’s going on.”

With the high level of poverty witnessed in the Alberni Valley, having services close due to illness will be a hardship, she said.

People in poverty “haven’t been able to stockpile,” she said. The Bread of Life soup kitchen is planning to decrease services to three days a week and will hand out food at the door, Kiefer said.

The CMHA’s New Horizons clubhouse, PA Shelter and Bread of Life all have commercial kitchens and the largest capacity for creating ready-made meals, she said. Those three organizations already share food donations, so a relationship is already in place. Although no one from the Community Food Bank at the Salvation Army was able to make the hastily-called meeting, “they are looped in,” Kiefer said.

The CMHA will look after as many people as it can, Kiefer said. “We have over 400 people within our mandate and we also have the whole homeless community that we are mandated to serve.” Trained volunteers will hit the streets with a mobile outreach service. A food drop-off is being contemplated for the shelter, Our Home on Eighth.

“What our intent is, is to do as much as we can according to our capacity.”

What that help will look like and how it’s rolled out depends on whether COVID-19 hits the Alberni Valley and how hard, she said. It is important to start the conversations now so everyone knows what resources are available and who needs help. Each agency refers to others. “We’re all helping each other out,” she said. “The intent of the coordination is so people don’t get missed.

“It’s not a solution, it’s a start,” Kiefer said.

“We’re not trying to be doomsday, we’re trying to ease people’s anxieties.”

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