The longhouse near the curling rink and Stampede Grounds is being considered for use as COVID-19 housing if necessary during a second wave. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Longhouse proposed for possible COVID-19 housing in Williams Lake

‘We are probaby looking at a second wave, we can’t stick our heads in the sand,’ said Rosanna McGregor

A proposal to use the longhouse behind the curling rink as COVID housing in Williams Lake was approved in principle by city council during its regular meeting Tuesday, July 14.

Cariboo Friendship Society executive director Rosanna McGregor told council during a presentation that planning with BC Housing and Interior Health has been underway on how to prepare for a second wave of the pandemic that could impact people in the area.

Read more: Offering essential services during COVID-19 keeps Cariboo Friendship Society busy

“We could only get six motel rooms in Williams Lake. Matthew Camirand with BC Housing came up the idea of these pods, kind of like a field hospital,” McGregor said, noting there is a kitchen at the longhouse.

She described how up to 20 pods could fit inside the longhouse.

Camirand, appearing by phone, said converted storage containers that have three separate shower, toilet and sink units inside would be brought to the site as well.

“They are very flexible and manufactured in the Chilliwack area and take about six weeks to create,” he said.

The storage containers can be hooked up to water and power and come with their own sewage catchment that can be emptied into a pumper truck, McGregor added.

At the CFS shelter on Third Avenue South there are three rooms on the men’s floor that house 15 people, but there is no way to socially isolate individuals, McGregor explained as the reason why she and other members of a local vulnerable population committee realized the need to create an alternative.

Having access to six motel rooms in Williams Lake is quite a bit less than they would normally be looking for in a community, Camirand said.

“In the last four months we have had other communities’ City facilities utilized in this way with these pod-kind of triage beds with personal dividers around them,” he said. “We are preparing for a worse case scenario, if we would have a major oubreak and luckily we haven’t had one yet.”

As much as things are opening up, personal distancing guideline are not changing, he added, noting that shelters have to run by half capacity because of those guidelines.

“We are handing City facilities back over and we still needs these kinds of sites for a second wave.”

Camirand said they like the option and see it as a temporary solution to get the community through the winter.

Before going ahead with further planning, McGregor said they wanted to know if city council would approve which is why she made the presentation.

The CFS leases the longhouse from the City.

Knowing council approved of the idea, she said they will now have to apply for a building permit to do some upgrades at the longhouse.

Mayor Walt Cobb asked if the committee had asked about using the former dorms at Williams Lake Columneetza campus, but Coun. Sheila Boehm who used to be a school board trustee said the building does not meet the building code and is presently used for storage.

Camirand and McGregor said having a bigger dormitory facility would also require more staff.

“It’s a challenge having individual units because the staffing level is beyond what the community can pull together,” Camirand said.

Read more: Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

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