There are an estimated 1,900 seniors living by themselves in Chinatown and Strathcona, mostly in SROs and affordable housing units.

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Advocates are calling for a more coordinated plan for vaccinating low income seniors living in Chinatown’s hundreds of affordable housing and SRO units.

“We just thought we would raise the point to make sure it’s on people’s radar,” said Michael Tan, co-chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group, which was appointed by the City of Vancouver.

So far, he sees very little sign of any groundwork in place for how Vancouver Coast Health (VCH) plans to inform and ensure seniors in Chinatown have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tan is also vice-president of the Chau Luen Society, a non-profit that was established in 1943 and runs a low-income housing residence for over 100 seniors on Keefer Street.

He said Chau Luen, like other societies that manage buildings with mostly Chinese senior residents, isn’t just a landlord. It also provides “linguistically accessible and culturally appropriate programming and support (so) residents are able to live fully.”


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He estimated there are about 1,900 seniors living by themselves in Chinatown and Strathcona, mostly in SROs and affordable housing units.

In a letter from the stewardship group to VCH, Tan described concerns stemming from early vaccination clinics in recent weeks for more vulnerable populations at the Carnegie Community Centre.

“They were lacking in Chinese-translated materials and also required seniors to stand out in the rain for hours while awaiting a vaccination,” said Tan.

He is proposing that mobile teams could give the vaccine in the common areas available in many Chinatown society buildings.

“We do see some of the seniors using an iPad or what not,” said Tan. “They know where to go for (watching TV or a call), but to explore and find out how to register or get a vaccine on an English website. That’s a big ask.”

Tan said VCH could coordinate with the societies and groups that operate these buildings, using lists the City of Vancouver already has in hand.

That information is probably a few years old and will have to be updated to be really useful, said Nick Yung, who works in outreach to Chinese seniors for the advocacy group, DTES SRO Collaborative.

Yung said existing lists usually name the directors. What’s further needed are the building managers and caretakers or even just “who the more respected or influential tenants are.”

They have the trust and relationships needed for making sure key information is not only delivered, but accepted and understood by Chinese seniors in these buildings.


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Buildings with affordable housing units run by larger societies with younger directors, such as Tan’s Chau Luen, are better positioned to work effectively with government health authorities to administer vaccines and handle outbreak situations, said Yung.

However, there are some societies that run smaller buildings of SRO units that are more disconnected. Mere translation of information is only part of the solution, said Yung.

He has studied notices pinned on message boards in the hallways of some of these buildings to design posters about kitchen and bathroom hygiene using colours, fonts and images that aesthetically fit in, so they won’t be ignored.

“We need resources to have more foot soldiers on the ground to go out and understand who and what can help,” said Yung, who said he will meet with VCH next week.

In a reply to Tan’s letter, VCH interim president and CEO Vivian Eliopoulos said, “we are taking into careful consideration the challenges faced by many seniors, including technology and language.”

She said information will be available online and in print in several different languages and it will make “every effort to immunize seniors in the communities where they live.”


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