The overnight shelter on Salt Spring Island got a boost from BC Housing this week, but organizers say it’s only one step toward what it really needs.
The shelter, which provides 30 beds, showers and two meals a day, is open each night starting Nov. 1. Usually, it stays open until March 31 and then closes until the following winter. But now, it will stay open year-round.
Rob Wiltzen, operations manager for Salt Spring Island Community Services, says it’s good news but it’s only a start.
“We have an extremely high homeless rate on Salt Spring Island on a per capita basis. We outshine the rest of the province by far.”
Wiltzen says a 2018 count found 131 homeless people on the island, which means the per capita rate was higher than both Victoria and Vancouver.
What they need, he says, is a shelter that’s open around-the-clock, provides three meals a day, offers a place to store personal belongings and is connected to support services.
BC Housing says the shelter is a temporary solution to solve the housing problem and that the long-term solution is on its way in the form of affordable housing.
“Housing is exactly what Salt Spring needs,” said Heidi Hartman, Vancouver Island’s regional.director.
“We’re excited about this temporary option until the housing comes online.”
That project was announced earlier this year and is supposed to provide 24 rental units in the coming years.
Cold weather shelter space hard to find
Salt Spring isn’t the only community looking for solutions to homelessness. Even on a temporary basis, shelter can prove elusive in island communities.
In Parksville, when a 52-unit supportive housing building opened this summer, it meant the annual cold weather shelter lost its home.
Susanna Newton, the co-chair of the Oceanside Homelessness Task Force, says the community is working to find somewhere eight people can sleep, shower and have dinner and breakfast from Nov. 1 to March 31.
“At this point, we’re still looking at our options,” she said. “Local churches have come together and are giving it consideration, whether that’s something that they can help us out with, and we’re all hopeful that that will come through.”
She says it’s frustrating to have to be looking for a new space.
People on central Vancouver Island are invited to participate in a community meeting to discuss the development of accessibility legislation for British Columbia.
On Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, will host an in-person session for people with disabilities, their friends and families, accessibility advocates and self-advocates, as well as organizations, experts, businesses and individuals to help define what future legislation to make B.C. a more accessible and inclusive province could look like.
The meeting will be held at the Royal Canadian Legion Comox Branch No. 160, 1825 Comox Ave., Comox, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. All are welcome to attend, participate and offer feedback about their experiences with accessibility, inclusion, barriers and what matters most in the development of accessibility legislation.
To register for a meeting or to read the document that provides information on how the meeting will be structured, visit: engage.gov.bc.ca/accessibility
People can also provide their feedback through an online questionnaire at the above link until Friday Nov. 29, 2019, at 4 p.m. (Pacific time).
Jemma Lee says she’s had problems with fatigue her entire life, but in the last decade migraines and frequent bouts of the flu have turned that fatigue into a new beast.
The 52-year-old was diagnosed three years ago with extreme myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.), a neuroinflammatory disease known to many as chronic fatigue syndrome. It causes extreme tiredness and affects various body systems to the point where Lee says she is “unable to move.”
Lee was shocked to learn recently that her four applications for assisted living in Victoria have been declined by the Vancouver Island Health Authority due to “unscheduled care needs.”
‘Prisoner in my own home’
“I was so incredulous,” said Lee, who lives alone in a 240-square-foot home on Galiano Island, where she’s forced to chop wood for warmth and doesn’t have access to filtered water.
“I’m a prisoner in my own home.”
After moving to Galiano in 2012, Lee said her symptoms worsened. Last year, she counted 140 days of seizures, which can affect various parts of her body, leaving her “unable to speak” for as long as 45 minutes, she says.
Lee said she regularly sees a doctor and a community nurse, and receives online emotional counselling.
While she’s happy with the support she’s had, she said the services on Galiano are not advanced enough to help her as she deteriorates.
“Right now I rely on my friends to take me to my health appointments and it’s a minimum 12-hour day to … take the ferry and come back,” she said, adding that her appointments typically last no more than 40 minutes.
“[My friends] have to be able to cope with me if I have a seizure … and take responsibility for me.”
With low income and no family in B.C., she said only assisted living in Victoria can meet her needs and give her nearby access to specialized services like physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social workers, and acupuncture.
Peter Luckham, Chair of the Islands Trust, said Lee is “not alone” in her difficulty accessing assisted living as a Gulf Island resident, because the services are hard to come by.
“At the end of the day, you end up leaving the islands” for more advanced services, he said.
Unpredictable health issues
Lee said Island Health doesn’t want someone with “unpredictable health issues,” as there are days where she could be walking relatively well, and others where she’s “seizuring on the floor.”
She recently wrote an open letter to Island Health, detailing her condition and imploring them to reconsider.
A statement from the authority says it is “aware of Ms. Lee’s concerns” and is “reviewing her application with her in order to provide the most appropriate care plan for her needs.”
Lee said that she and others with the disease are fighting for it to be recognized as a biological condition in the same way diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis are. The term chronic fatigue syndrome, used widely by medical professionals, reduces the legitimacy of the disease by making light of it, she said.
Not taken seriously
Dr. Mohamed Gheis, a neuropsychiatrist in Victoria who runs a rehabilitation program for people with neurological disorders, said M.E. patients are still “not very well understood” by Canadian health-care workers.
Right now, these patients are “not receiving the care they deserve as sources of disability,” he said.
Lee said she’s had doctors ask her to explain M.E. “When you go to the hospital, you’re having to advocate for yourself constantly,” she said.
Elizabeth Sanchez, the president of the ME/FM Society of B.C., said some M.E. patients have had doctors laugh at them or berate them, and some patients have committed suicide because “they just can’t bear their lives any longer.”
She said the society has been trying to get the province’s Ministry of Health to understand the severity of the disease, but it’s a slow, frustrating process.
“They don’t understand that there is a crisis for M.E. patients,” she said. “But there is a light at the end of the tunnel … We just don’t know how long that tunnel is.”
Damage seen at Little Qualicum Falls park in February. It’s the lone provincial park still closed in the aftermath of powerful winter storms. CHEK NEWS
Despite the damage caused in forested areas by December’s powerful windstorm, Little Qualicum Falls is the lone provincial park still closed in the aftermath.
The goal is to have at least a portion of the 440-hectare park opened for the May long weekend.
“However, because safety is our top priority, this cannot be guaranteed while we are still in the midst of assessment and cleanup,” B.C. Parks said in a statement.
The park is popular with families and features waterfalls, a rocky gorge, ands walking trails. B.C. Parks said the “unprecedented blowdown storm” badly damaged the park, home to a 96-site campground — requiring a lot of time and money to assess the damage and work toward a reopening.
“As the recovery work is still underway, we cannot yet know the final costs,” B.C. Parks said. “We are fortunate that there was little capital infrastructure damage. However, the sheer number of fallen and damaged trees has created an unsafe environment.
“We currently have a contractor removing the downed trees from the campgrounds and day-use area, and once this work is completed, we will be able to undertake the repairs of trails, roads, campsites, safety fencing and washroom facilities.”
Heavy machinery is being used.
Meanwhile, five recreation sites in the Campbell Lake area, west of Campbell River, that are currently free have been upgraded to provide better camping facilities. That means a $15 a night fee will come into effect May 15.
The five sites are Dogwood Bay, Loon Bay, Apple Point, Brewster Camp and Gray Lake in the Sayward Forest. The sites will be maintained more often and be regularly visited by a host.
The Brewster Lake, Campbell Lake and Orchard Meadow sites north of Campbell Lake are already fee-for-service locations.
The changes follow a demand for more certainty about campsite availability, but a large number of free sites will continue to be offered in the vicinity.
To book a provincial campsite, visit the Discover Camping website at discovercamping.ca.
The Spirit of Vancouver Island is expected to sail into B.C. Ferries’ refit facility in Richmond on Wednesday, a little over a month after it left Poland, where it was converted to run on liquefied natural gas rather than diesel only. Times Colonist
The Spirit of Vancouver Island is expected to sail into B.C. Ferries’ refit facility in Richmond on Wednesday, a little over a month after it left Poland, where it was converted to run on liquefied natural gas rather than diesel only.
The vessel was expected to pass by the Victoria pilot station early in the morning.
It left B.C. on Sept. 14 for the mid-life refit at Remontowa Ship Repair Yard S.A. of Gdansk Poland. Work included installation of new engines and fuel system, new navigation and propulsion equipment, upgraded elevators and improvements to the passenger area, which got new carpeting and an additional washroom, an expanded gift shop and a new coffee bar.
Once work was complete, it sailed out of Poland on Feb. 28.
The Spirit of Vancouver Island serves the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route. A similar refit was carried out on its sister ship, the Spirit of British Columbia, between the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018. The new technology in both ships will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12,500 tonnes every year — the same as taking 2,500 vehicles off the road, B.C. Ferries president and chief executive Mark Collins said in a statement.
For its work on the Spirit of British Columbia, B.C. Ferries has been awarded the Shippax Retrofit Award, which recognizes innovation in the ferry industry. The ferry is one of the largest passenger ferries to be converted to natural gas propulsion. It is also the first passenger ferry to refuel by taking delivery on a fully enclosed vehicle deck.
The return of the Spirit of Vancouver Island was broken into three sections: Poland to the Canary Islands, the Canary Islands to the Panama Canal, and Panama to British Columbia. A B.C. Ferries captain and engineer was on each leg.
The Spirit of Vancouver Island is scheduled to be at Sand Heads, at the entrance to the Fraser River, at 6 a.m. today. From there, it will sail to B.C. Ferries’ refit facility in Richmond, where crew will be trained. The ship is expected to return to service within the next few weeks. A specific date has not been announced.
The cost to upgrade the two ships was $140 million.
On a medical-assistance trip to rural Guatemala seven years ago, Victoria anesthesiologist Dr. Brent Caton and his daughter Natasha watched a plastic surgeon operate on Mayan children who had been severely burned falling into their family cooking fires.
On this reconstructive plastic surgery mission, Caton learned that Dr. Lourdes Santizo is one of only a few plastic surgeons in the small Central American country who offers care to some of the country’s main burn victims. The Catons saw first-hand how receiving high-quality medical treatment can improve a person’s quality of life and affect those close to them.
They returned home humbled by Santizo’s dedication and inspired to continue her work in Guatemala. As he shared his experience after he returned home, Caton found many Victoria doctors and nurses were interested in helping ill and impoverished Guatemalans on future medical-assistance trips.
In 2014, the Caton family founded the CARE team, a Vancouver Island non-profit organization whose members volunteer one week a year, operating on patients at a Franciscan hospital in Antigua, Guatemala.
“The Catons were quite struck by what they saw there and the need,” said Victoria gynecologist Dr. Kellie Whitehill. “And five years in, it seems to be working quite well.”
Whitehill and her husband, vascular surgeon Dr. Matt Robinson, are preparing for their fifth surgical mission in the second week of July.
The mandate of the CARE team is to help those who do not have access to health care. It provides mostly general and gynecological surgery. However, in 2017, the team was able to reconnect with Santizo and provide her with an anesthesiologist and a doctor to assist her reconstructive plastic surgeries.
“We allowed her to be able to operate,” said Whitehill. “Supporting her made a huge impact on everybody in the team, and she continues to be someone we’d like to link up with.”
CARE team doctors helped Santizo operate on four-year-old Petrona. The little girl had fallen into a cooking pot and badly burned her chest and arms. Her arms, locked in a 90-degree angle, required complex surgery.
The CARE team helped her treat a little boy with a badly burned arm. The arm had been bandaged to his chest, and over the years, without surgery, it became fused to his chest.
Team members also assisted with the care of another little boy with a severe burn on his buttock. The boy had sat down on a pot by the fire that had just been used for cooking.
Many of the team’s general and gynecological patients have waited years, even decades, for a hernia repair or hysterectomy.
“I’ve wanted to do this my whole life,” said family doctor Darcy Nielsen, who will be on her third surgical mission to Guatemala in July with her husband, Gary Nielsen, also a family doctor.
“Here, people have options. There, they have no options. Honestly, I could weep thinking about it. It’s so incredible.”
In July 2015, the first Victoria CARE team ran two surgical rooms for a week at the hospital in Antigua, completing 53 surgeries.
“We ran a general surgery room with Matt and a gynecology room for me and we found just enough bodies to come and run two surgical teams,” said Whitehill.
“We brought down two surgical assistants, two anesthesiologists, six OR nurses and three recovery-room nurses. We had just enough bodies to make it work, plus some non-medical volunteers to provide whatever additional support they could. It was a small group and it was amazing.”
Since the beginning, the team has worked in partnership with a Guatemalan non-profit organization affiliated with the U.S. group Partners for Surgery.
The Asociación Compañero Para Cirugía moves from village to village, going to rural communities in Guatemala five or six times a year to run triage clinics, said Whitehill.
“They advertise to the local villages and they come to the community and see patients who may need surgery,” said Whitehill, who also volunteered with the ACPC clinic last year. “You triage for an entire week to see who can be helped, who actually needs surgery and the kind of surgery they need.”
Most of the patients are members of the Indigenous Mayan population, which has been subjected to centuries of systematic oppression and continues to be largely deprived of access to vital health care. People in remote rural areas walk 10 to 12 hours to reach these villages in search of medical care.
“We were seeing 800 to 1,000 people in four days,” said Whitehill. “We do breast screening and pap smears and make a list of people who need surgery.”
ACPC has health promoters who speak the Mayan dialect of the communities they work in. These translators are given a list of people and their illnesses. They receive a list of who needs surgery and when the surgery will be scheduled.
“The health promoters communicate with the patients and visit them and make sure they are ready for their surgery. They hop on the bus with them and spend two weeks with them when it’s time for surgery,” said Whitehill.
The team, now numbering more than 30, arrives on a Saturday in Guatemala City and takes a cramped bus ride to Antigua.
“You walk down in the morning and the hospital is full of people who have been brought down from the villages,” said Darcy Nielsen.
Mayan women are particularly disenfranchised, said Gary Nielsen.
“That’s why gynecology is such a big part of the services we provide. They are so under-served,” he said.
Whitehill operates on women with massive fibroids or severe prolapsed uteruses, which are painful and ulcerated.
“We’ll treat a woman whose uterus is dangling close to her knees. She’s got a family of 12 and a disabled husband. She’s been dealing with the problem for seven, eight or nine years,” said Gary.
“The spinoff is we’re often not just helping one person. We’re helping their 12 children, their husband and their community when they are able to return to farming.”
In July 2018, the team safely and successfully performed 81 operations.
When Victoria surgeon Darren Biberdorf went last year, “we worked him so freaking hard,” said Darcy.
“He did laparoscopic gallbladders until hell froze over.”
One of the first patients Darcy assessed was a 19-year-old who thought he had an abdominal, belly-button hernia. She quickly realized he had been born with a loop of his bowel sticking out.
“He probably should have died. He’d had it all his life. When Dr. Biberdorf told the mum he could fix it, in Spanish, through a translator, she just collapsed on the floor,” she said.
The surgeons repair painful hernias on Mayan farmers.
“We get those patients in as quickly as we can,” said Darcy. “Either the anesthesiologist or the surgeon grabs a mop and gets the blood off the floor while the nurse is counting for the next case. We can flip a room in 10 to 15 minutes.”
The goal is to provide care to the best of their ability, but there are limitations, said Whitehill.
“We operate fast and safely with all hands on deck because if we don’t operate on the patients that week, they’re going home and they might not come back again.”
Still, operations such as hysterectomies — done in Victoria with laparoscopic surgery, small incisions and much better recovery — are done there by opening the abdomen, said Whitehill.
The team relies on the health promoters to care for the patients and bring them home.
“What’s really nice is they also check on them after,” said Whitehill. “It’s operate. Make sure there’s no post-op infections. Make sure what you’ve done has worked. Make sure they’re back home safely. It’s nice to know there’s a version of post-operative care happening. That really made Matt and me happy the first year, so we’ve kept with them.”
One woman translator sat at the bedside of a patient all night to make sure the patient had someone to talk to, said Gary.
Everyone on the team pays their own expenses, but help is needed to raise $30,000 every year for patient care and surgical supplies.
The team is also looking for large suitcases to bring surgical supplies to Guatemala.
“We carry down donated shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, Advil and Tylenol for the post-op care,” said Darcy.
Each patient receives a personal care package when their surgery is scheduled. These basic supplies help promote best hygiene practices around the time of their surgery.
But money is needed for all the surgical supplies, drugs, dressings, surgical drapes, gloves, sponges, sutures and medications such as anesthetics, analgesics and antibiotics.
Several corporations provide operating-room packs at reasonable costs.
Last year, the CARE team brought four cases of veterinary supplies to a volunteer animal shelter.
“It’s so great to go down and really know you’re making a huge difference in other people’s lives,” said Darcy. “It has been a dream of mine to be able to help people this way and it is life-changing for these people.”
The group held a fundraiser in February and continues to raise money through the Times Colonist 10K run on April 28, concerts and other social events.
Another popular fundraiser, the Battle of the Dad Bands, is being held May 4 at the Capital Ballroom.
The Victoria-based CARE team recently started working in partnership with a Vancouver organization, Health for Humanity. Contributions can be made on their website — donors can use the comments box to direct their donations to the CARE Surgical Mission 2019, which begins the second week of July.
Vancouver Island University will have a new president starting this summer: accomplished neuroscientist Deborah Saucier.
Saucier comes to the Nanaimo university for her five-year term as president by way of Edmonton, where she has served as the president of MacEwan University since 2017.
“I’ve been watching what’s been going on at VIU for a long time,” she told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC’s On The Island.
“VIU has taken some really bold steps in engaging First Nations.”
Saucier, who has Metis heritage, has made STEM and Indigenous education a focus throughout her career in higher education across Canada. which she plans to continue pursuing in her new role. STEM is an approach to learning that focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“It’s absolutely critical that we not only engage our communities but that we hear what they need and respond to that,” she said.
‘Optimism and kindness’
In a statement from the university, Chancellor Louise Mandell described Saucier as “a brilliant Indigenous woman whose values are congruent with VIU’s Indigenous commitment.
“Her leadership combines optimism and kindness – qualities important to VIU’s continued success as a regional university making social and cultural changes through transforming the communities we serve,” Mandell said.
Saucier said she plans to continue some of the work of current president Ralph Nelson, but push it further in terms of community engagement and accessibility of education.
“Ralph Nelson has been amazing with the kinds of things he’s been able to do with advancing the agenda for reconciliation and access for students who might not otherwise be able to go to university,” Saucier said.
“I wouldn’t want to lose momentum on those but, again, I think we can go further.”
Saucier is from Saskatchewan but has deep roots on Vancouver Island, where she attended Pearson College. She holds two degrees from the University of Victoria.
She leaves her current position in Edmonton this July.
Vancouver Island University will have a new president starting this summer: accomplished neuroscientist Deborah Saucier. 6:03
A Vancouver Island woman who relies on a power chair for mobility said she was left stranded by handyDART Monday during a heavy snowfall.
Caroline Lennox, a 51-year-old resident of Brentwood Bay, had travelled to the Victoria courthouse Monday afternoon for a divorce matter.
Lennox said she had booked her return trip home, about 20 kilometres away, two weeks in advance.
Monday saw much of Vancouver Island blanketed by snow, however, and B.C. Transit announced handyDART service would be used for essential trips only: critical medical appointments such as dialysis appointments.
Heavy snow on Vancouver Island left many Greater Victoria streets perilous for drivers. (Liam Britten/CBC)
Lennox was not told of this, she said. When she called a dispatcher to ask if her ride home was going to be on time, she was shocked to find out it was cancelled.
“So, if I hadn’t called, then, I would have been just outside the courthouse at four o’clock at the appointed time, waiting and waiting and not knowing that there was never going to be a ride coming,” Lennox said.
In the end, she said, it took her three hours to get home by busing part of the way and taking a cab the rest.
Many buses couldn’t cope with the heavy snowfall on Vancouver Island and some were left completely stuck. (Liam Britten/CBC)
What is essential?
Lennox explained that she was upset, not only that she allegedly wasn’t contacted about the cancelled ride, but also that essential service levels are so limited.
She said her court appointment was absolutely essential and for B.C. Transit not to consider it so shows a lack of understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.
“I respect that they have to do what’s safe for their drivers … but what I don’t respect is that court is not considered an essential service,” she said.
“I think it says that they haven’t really asked the participating community to be involved in the service definition and the service delivery model.”
B.C. Transit to follow up
B.C. Transit spokesperson Jonathan Dyck said handyDART service is particularly challenging in the snow because it is door-to-door service. That means drivers not only contend with road conditions but also sidewalks.
He said someone will follow up with Lennox about what happened with her ride Monday.
“We take these matters very seriously,” Dyck told All Points West host Robyn Burns. “We want to make sure handyDART riders have their rides … We will look into that internally.”
He said the handyDART service provider in Victoria has called in extra personnel to help move people, but the service will remain at essential service levels Wednesday.
Problems at the best of times
Wendy Cox, executive director of the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, said, in theory, the handyDART system is great: door-to-door service for people with mobility challenges, provided by small buses and taxi vouchers when a bus ride can’t be arranged.
But in practise, she added, it has many limitations: rides need to be booked two weeks in advance and getting an accessible cab is tough, especially before 6 p.m.
Riders are told to be ready 30 minutes before the ride shows up but sometimes wait an hour.
HandyDART services in B.C. — like this example of a Metro Vancouver vehicle — have been criticized by some for insufficient service levels. (CBC)
“A simple trip to get groceries, something that would take most people an hour or two, could be a half a day event or longer,” Cox said in an email, adding that, in conditions like these, riders can be left out in the cold for extended periods of time.
“For people whose bodies do not regulate temperature or those who have poor circulation, this can have a very negative effect on their bodies. It can take hours to warm up again.”
Lennox says she has an appointment to speak with her MLA, Adam Olsen, about her concerns with handyDART.
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