Last year, there were 2,223 people recorded in Vancouver's annual homeless count.
Of those, 614 were living on the street and another 1,609 had no fixed address and were in emergency shelters, detox, safe houses, and hospitals.
Many of them ordinarily make use of washrooms in McDonald's, coffee shops, libraries, community centres, and local parks.
But today, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered the closure of all dining in restaurants. These businesses can only offer takeout service. And that's put the washrooms off-limits to the homeless.
Washrooms are also unavailable at all the community centres and libraries that have been shuttered across Vancouver.
Only three sites are open during the day and early evening: the Carnegie Centre at the corner of Main and East Hastings Street, the Evelyne Saller Centre at 320 Alexander Street, and the Gathering Place at 609 Helmcken Street.
There are good reasons for the closure of public facilities and in-restaurant dining operations.
With 348 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C., we're on the cusp of an even more grave crisis that has already claimed the lives of nine residents.
But somehow, it seems that the homeless population outside of the downtown core and Downtown Eastside has been largely overlooked in federal, provincial, and municipal responses to COVID-19.
That's pretty obvious from the tweet below by the Straight's homeless blogger, Stanley Q. Woodvine, who lives in Fairview.
Surely, the city, school board, or province could take steps to ensure that homeless people in all neighbourhoods of Vancouver have access to public washrooms where they can drink clean water and wash their hands.
It might require hiring someone on a short-term basis to staff the facility and encourage the homeless to practise proper social distancing.
Or it could be overseen by a contracted agency, like Union Gospel Mission or Lookout Housing + Health Society, which has experience dealing with homeless people.
One option would be to open washrooms in selected schools, which are likely to remain closed for a long time anyway. At the very least, Porta-potties could be placed outside community centres and libraries.
There is no shortage of people who've lost their jobs due to COVID-19, particularly in the hospitality sector.
It shouldn't be hard finding people to staff and clean public washrooms opened for at least 18 or 20 hours a day in each of Vancouver's 23 official neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
Today, I walked by McDonald's near the corner of Granville Street and West Broadway to see how Woodvine was doing.
He wasn't at his usual writing spot by the window because the restaurant wouldn't allow anyone inside except for takeout business.
But I did see one other homeless person dart in, steal some iced tea from the dispenser, and run out. I'm guessing there have been others.
Public health policies shouldn't have to turn homeless people into thieves just so they can slake their thirst.
It's time to fix this situation. Now.