In our larger urban centres, Vancouver Island has many agencies and organizations that we can lean on for support. But in our smaller communities, that lifeline can be reduced to a single agency.
That’s the case on Gabriola Island, where People for a Healthy Community on Gabriola (PHC Gabriola) is the only social services agency.
Yet, despite the isolating tendencies of the COVID-19 pandemic, PHC Gabriola is not alone. Through the spirit of community amongst the citizens of Gabriola Island, and the support of various other organizations including United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, PHC Gabriola has maintained, adapted and grown its services, as the need has grown.
“We’ve got a very high number of seniors [on Gabriola Island],” says Kenda Chang-Swanson, food programs coordinator with PHC Gabriola. “We have a lot of low-income families … as well as a high number of single parent families.”
As in many places, housing insecurity is a problem there due to rising housing prices and a tight rental market. Homelessness exists there as well.
“People who were already socially isolated were getting further socially isolated. Folks who were already dealing with food insecurity were getting more food insecure, as well as having new people come up on our client list, names we’ve never seen before that had never needed help, suddenly needed help, either through our seniors programs or food programs or needing referrals.”
PHC Gabriola is both a program provider and a hub, providing food services, shower facilities, activities to reduce social isolation and more, while also connecting people to other resources when needed.
Funded by United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island and the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, PHC Gabriola was able to adapt seniors programming. Deliveries were set up so that seniors could still receive food from the food bank, as well as get home-cooked meals portioned out, frozen and brought to them.
Newsletters were created and distributed, keeping seniors connected to their community, to health information and other resources despite their social isolation.
Even the regular visits of food delivery people were a welcome connection for many seniors, says Kenda.
PHC Gabriola was also able to keep open its shower facilities for folks who otherwise wouldn’t have access to bathing facilities.
“I think that has a huge impact,” says Kenda. “We have one gentleman, he showers every single week … and if we’re able to make it work, he will shower sometimes two or three times a week at our building … He’s a senior and he lives in a trailer and has no proper washroom facilities or kitchen facilities. And I think that comfort … was huge for him.
“Just the dignity and being able to have some place to be clean and feel good about yourself – not only the physical aspects of wanting to have a shower, but also I think just the mental health side of things, too, when you are able to feel good about yourself and get your needs met I think was hugely helpful.”
Having UWCNVI funding that was flexible and allowed PHC Gabriola to quickly try new ways to meet the needs of Gabriola residents has been crucial, says Kenda.
Matching the hard work of PHC Gabriola staff, funding from organizations like UWCNVI and the community-driven citizens of Gabriola has made a huge difference in that community.