At least three days a week, the big brown Care-A-Van can be seen rolling through the Valley.
The van has been around since 2009, but the care and services provided continue to change and expand based on community need.
Sabina Acheson has been the Care-A-Van’s co-ordinator since 2016 and is following in the footsteps of her predecessor, and Care-A-Van founder, Helen Boyd.
“What I’ve carried forward from her is the importance of meeting people where they’re at and responding to their needs,” said Acheson. “We’re trying to continue in her tradition of ensuring that there is a consultation process for the people who are using our services and advocating for their voices to be heard in this community.”
Care-A-Van’s team has grown to a group of 50 volunteers, including 20 nurses, doctors, a chiropractor, audiologists, an optometrist, dentist, denturist, vet, pharmacist, harm reduction workers, a social worker and advocate.
Though many clients come on board for help with their medical needs, the van offers so much more.
For those who aren’t dressed properly for the weather, they can get warm clothes and blankets. People who are hungry can get one-portion meals, and those without housing can be directed to the services and supports that they need.
“The primary reason we’re seeing people is for health care, mental health support, social development needs that are all under the hospice of health,” said Acheson. “But almost as many people as we’re seeing [for those needs] are coming for warm clothes, warm blankets and toiletries and essentials, which is a big increase.”
Acheson says the Care-A-Van has seen over 1,500 individual clients since 2009. Between 2014 and 2018, they have seen a 45 per cent increase in people using the services.
The Care-A-Van stops at the Comox Valley Food Bank once or twice a month, and with this addition, Acheson says they have seen an increase in 120 clients.
The Care-A-Van has also increased its services, including naloxone training for all staff, an expanded food program and a water program.
Thanks to various partnerships, the van offers bottled drinking water, shower passes and laundry vouchers for clients.
A chiropractor is also on staff to help those living with chronic pain.
“Forty-three per cent of our clients [have] a chronic health condition and of those, 23 per cent report experiencing chronic pain… The chiropractor does minor adjustments and follow-up and makes recommendations for ergonomic corrections people can do to improve their physical health,” said Acheson.
If the Care-A-Van cannot immediately help clients with what they need, staff will direct them to outside services or businesses that can help.
“Our social worker has joined the team as kind of a community navigator and works with myself and our advocate to provide short-term case management to support people with getting ministry funds when they’re needed, applications for replacement of ID, ensuring people have fair PharmaCare, that their MSP is initiated, that people are doing their housing applications and sort of streamlining people’s access to mental health services, and whether they want to go for addiction services or treatment,” said Acheson.
“We’re trying not to have overlap, so we won’t take on the long-term case management of clients, but we will start to move them in the right direction or build a trusting relationship that fosters growth around their interaction with the healthcare system.”
Acheson says the volunteers have an integral role in developing relationships with people to encourage them to enter the van and help them feel comfortable accessing the services they need.
|The Care-A-Van is equipped with medical supplies and information about services to tend to their clients’ needs. Photo by Jolene Rudisuela|
Jim Crozier volunteers as a Care-A-Van driver once or twice a month and has spoken to many people across the spectrum of poverty and homelessness.
“It makes a huge impact, particularly people who are marginalized or living on sort of the edge of society. They can come here, they’re not judged, they can get help from the nurses on board,” said Crozier. “Sometimes they might need an extra pair of socks or a jacket or some shoes, so it helps out with people that won’t necessarily go into town or go into the city to search out something, but they would go to this because they realize it’s accepting and non-judgemental.”
Acheson adds that with a mobile bus, they are able to show up where their clients are to bring the services to them.
“Showing up where the people are is acknowledging that people deserve respect. It reduces social isolation.”
While housing costs contribute to the rising number of clients, Acheson says the service is needed now more than ever to end the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
“Poverty impacts people’s physical health, their mental health, spiritual and emotional health,” said Acheson. “Statistics in larger cities demonstrate that people who are seeking housing who engage in health and social development services have better ability to stay housed once they are housed.”
The Care-A-Van is completely funded by the community, which is a source of pride for Acheson.
“Our community members are holding up our community members, so I think that’s something to be proud of. We couldn’t roll out year after year without the support from the community.”
The Care-A-Van is currently seeking donations of warm winter clothing for men and women, blankets, sleeping bags, one portion meal food donations, grant writers and a new long-term place to house the van.
Donations can be dropped off at Sunwest RV Centre on Cliffe Ave.