Blog

How UGM is Urgently Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Nicole Hui

Updated March 25, 2020

We love you and we're in this together. While COVID-19 is a challenging time for all of us, the safety of our homeless guests, low-income families, and community means everything. That’s why we’re now taking additional emergency steps to safeguard our guests, volunteers, and staff at UGM amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you know, our homeless guests are among those most vulnerable to health concerns like COVID-19, as some may have compromised immune systems and pre-existing health conditions, along with precarious living situations and urgent basic needs like shelter and meals. It is deeply concerning to us that this virus, should it become widespread, could result in yet another risk. 

So it’s crucial we proactively offer the best care possible during this challenging time. We are dedicated to ensuring the safety of our guests, many of whom rely on UGM for meals, shelter and safety daily for survival. Their lives are on the line, and we will continue to serve them with dignity and respect through new extra measures.

Right now UGM is geared toward maintaining essential services that are critical for supporting the health, wellbeing and survival of our vulnerable guests, like meals and shelter. The need is massive and escalating as other service providers are forced to scale back or shut down services. We’re increasing our service level where possible to meet the rising demand.

How are we ensuring the safety of our community? At this time, the following new steps are being taken:

  • We're scaling up to meet a rising need as some other programs are forced to scale down. Right now our main location in the DTES is serving 60% more meals to make up for other organizations serving fewer meals, while adjusting program delivery to minimize the risk of transmission. 
    • Instead of gathering hundreds of people inside our dining room together, we are offering hot meals ‘to-go’ in biodegradable containers through our doors and serving hundreds more. This reduces risk and follows the advice of health authorities to limit public gatherings to fewer than 50 people.
  • Adjusting our shelter operations to protect guests. UGM is fortunate that our shelter was designed specifically with dignity and illness control in mind. The shelter consists of 4 smaller rooms, rather than one large space that everyone shares. 
    • Still, we are implementing more social distancing as possible in our shelter to space guests further apart in separate rooms and separate floors. 
    • We are also screening guests for COVID-19 symptoms to ensure our shelter is a safe refuge and will be referring any severely sick patients to 9-1-1, while now working with government and health authorities to determine a regional plan for homeless community members who fall ill. 
  • Adjusting or suspending select non-essential services such as drop-in and our clothing room to limit large gatherings of people and still offer support.  
    • Drop-in, clothing room, etc: We will serve coffee or water through the doors of UGM during drop-in hours, instead of having our community guests gather inside as usual. This creates connection with our community but limits gatherings of large people, following the advice of BC health authorities. 
    • Clothing Room: Our clothing room will not be open to the larger community at one time, but instead we will respond to emergency situations as they arise to get people clothing they need.
  • Implementing social distancing measures around UGM as possible
    • Staff who are able to work from home are doing so, while any volunteer shifts that are not geared toward essential services have been cancelled


These new measures follow the previous steps already implemented, such as:

  • Following and updating our Pandemic Plan, which was first developed in 2009 in response to H1N1
  • Striking an Emergency Management Team to coordinate an emergency response
  • Taking extra sanitation measures to clean all surfaces thoroughly and more frequently every day at UGM
  • Notifying our staff and residents on how to prevent and recognize COVID-19
  • Scaling back larger events to responsibly minimize the risk of transmission
    • Our Easter Major Meal (originally scheduled for April 11, 2020) will now be changed to a smaller Easter Ham Dinner with only our homeless guests and staff in attendance, celebrating in a more relaxed way than our normal major meals. Volunteer shifts have been cancelled.

While currently there is no reason to believe our community has been exposed to COVID-19, we are seriously preparing and caring for our guests and community in case the virus becomes more widespread in our region. 

If the virus becomes more widespread, we will be taking additional steps to respond. Please keep posted here on this post, as we will continue to update this page with our current emergency measures.

What You Can Do:

We appreciate your continued prayers and support as we face this ever changing situation. As we rise to meet the increasing needs of our community, your generosity is crucial to keeping our guests safe and healthy.

For just $3.29, you can provide a hot nutritious dinner to a vulnerable neighbour, and remind them that they are loved and cared for during this pandemic. Please consider making a gift today.

You can also sign up for our email newsletter for updates, and inspirational stories to give you hope during this turbulent time.