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Unsheltered residents at Camp Samac “adjusting well”: Region

Camp Samac is being used to shelter homeless residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seen here are Kelly O’Brien, Durham Region’s Director of Income and Employment Support, case worker Kalene Moreira, case worker Dave Imeson, and Durham Region Manager Shari Steffler. (Photo by Randy Nickerson)

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

After just over two weeks at Camp Samac, Commissioner of Social Services Stella Danos-Papaconstantinou says the unsheltered residents “seem to be adjusting very well.”

Camp Samac opened as a temporary location on May 1 for unsheltered residents to have a place to self-isolate to help stop the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Camp Samac is sheltering 25 residents, according to Danos-Papaconstantinou, “which is wonderful,” she says, adding they are remaining consistently at 24 or 25 residents, which is the max, with some residents leaving and new ones arriving.

Danos-Papaconstantinou says not only do the residents have a warm place to sleep, they also have access to Durham Mental Health Services on site, which she says is proving to be beneficial for the residents.

She explains one man who came in seemed to be struggling and wouldn’t talk.

“Within a few days, he was starting to reach out, share his journey with us, and ask for help, which is amazing,” she continues.

Danos-Papaconstantinou says meals are also being provided to the residents on site by Durham College.

“We have residents who are excited to be getting three meals. That’s a big deal for some,” she says. “And another said, ‘I love that I have warm clothing when it gets washed, I’ve never felt that,’” she adds.

“They’re getting the benefit of what we take for granted every day.”

Danos-Papaconstantinou says it’s incredible the way the community has come together for this initiative.

“It’s a program we believe in,” she says, adding the program at Camp Samac is a much better option for the residents.

“At the warming centres, they would leave in the morning. Here, the idea is they stay in one place so we can try to flatten the curve and prevent, possibly, the transmission of this illness.”

While Camp Samac is working right now, Danos-Papaconstantinou says they’ve also already begun the process to plan for the next steps.

“We know that Camp Samac is a privately run organization, and as restrictions get lifted, they will need to get back to their business, so we are cognitive of that,” she says, adding they are continuing to receive advice from public health, who is advising them on this program, however, she says they’ve also started the preliminary process of looking for other options.


Residents receive mental health support on site

In addition to having a safe place to sleep and self-isolate amidst the pandemic, the unsheltered residents staying at Camp Samac have also had on site access to mental health services.

Two case managers from Durham Mental Health Services (DMHS) have been redeployed to Camp Samac to provide services, including crisis support and emotional support for the residents as well as for the other staff staying on site, according to DMHS CEO Rob Adams.

“It has to be tough for the clients that are just showing up who have been placed there,” says Adams. “I think it’s really a sense of ensuring people are feeling okay and safe about what’s going on. There’s a lot of uncertainty here for people, so there’s really that comfort of just listening and validating people,” he continues.

Adams says they’ve also been trying to do some proactive planning around housing. He says DMHS had about 15 open rent supplements – a government-funded payment that helps bridge the gap between the actual cost of housing and what a person can afford – before this all started, and they were able to transfer it to the program at Camp Samac.

“Anyone that’s up there now, if they really want to look for housing and a more long-term solution, our workers are able to work with them,” says Adams, adding staff have been able to build a rapport with some of the individuals.

“Some individuals shy away from agency support, but our staff are there every day, eating with them, sharing their space, and they’re building that relationship. You can see the trust they’ve built with a lot of the individuals,” he continues.

Danos-Papaconstantinou says that one couple, upon arriving at Camp Samac, was able to find housing.

“They were living unsheltered, they came to us, we helped them out and they were able to get housing,” she says.

Adams says it’s important DMHS stepped up to help on this project, adding while many agencies are now doing virtual care, that doesn’t work for everyone.

“We’re funded to provide mental health support face-to-face, and it has been a bit of a challenge, but our staff have been extremely dedicated and committed to supporting the clients.”


Durham College is providing meals for the residents staying at Camp Samac during the pandemic. Seen here are Susan Jung and Sharon Hibbert-Jackson. (Photo by Randy Nickerson)

Durham College pitches in

Durham College has been providing meals for the residents since the site opened on May 1.

Kelly O’Brien, general manager of the W. Galen Weston Centre for Food (CFF) at Durham College, says it all started for them at the beginning of the pandemic when everything closed and they didn’t know what they were going to do with all the food.

“We had all this food and we didn’t know what to do with it, so we started thinking of ways to process and preserve it. We wanted to find ways so that we weren’t wasting food,” she says, adding that’s when they connected with Community Care Durham and started donating food to them for their Food Box program.

From there, O’Brien says they were approached by the region about being involved with the project at Camp Samac.

She says four chefs and a few others are working to provide 35 meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily to Camp Samac.

“I’m a big believer in community engagement and giving back to the community where you can, and this just seemed like the perfect fit for us,” says O’Brien. “We’re trying to keep engaged with the community. We are shut down, but we still want to be present and help where we can as much as possible.