Charles Rochfort, left, and Jonathan Grenier work on a home as Quebec lifts the ban on residential construction due to the COVID-19 pandemic Monday April 20, 2020 in Deux-Montagnes, Que.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Hotels for homeless people could tackle two crises at once: advocates

Feds give $157.5 million to help cities take action to protect their vulnerable homeless populations

Already in the throes of a housing and homelessness crisis in many parts of the country, advocates say funds to fight the spread of COVID-19 could be used to keep people housed long after the pandemic has ended.

Cities all over Canada have been scrambling to find ways to keep the virus from spreading like wildfire through over-crowded shelters.

Homeless people often have other health problems that put them at greater risk if they contract COVID-19, and without a home to isolate in it’s difficult for them to avoid the virus or practice good hand hygiene, according to Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

Without intervention, there will be outbreaks and avoidable deaths, she said.

The federal government has released $157.5 million to help cities take action to protect their vulnerable homeless populations.

While there’s no silver bullet solution to protect the homeless people from COVID-19, most major cities in Canada have used at least some of those funds to open up recreation centres, exhibition halls and hotel rooms to give those people room to isolate and be treated, if necessary.

“It’s way safer,” said Maureen Fair, executive director of West Neighbourhood House, a social services agency in Toronto.

She told the House of Common’s health committee that opening hotel rooms for people to self isolate has afforded them their own space, their own bathrooms.

“The question is, are we going to evict them at the end of the COVID pandemic?” she said.

Advocates are urging cities to follow Toronto’s lead, and use those funds to buy up permanent spaces.

Toronto acquired approximately 1,200 hotel spaces with the strategy of buying spaces where ever possible, and is looking into the purchase of 15 more sites, according to the city’s board of health.

The Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa urged the capital to do the same, so the spaces can be used to keep people housed once the pandemic is over.

“Homelessness is still going to be an issue six months from now,” said executive director Kaite Burkholder Harris.

She said it only makes sense, while funding is flowing, that cities would put money into permanent solutions instead of temporary ones.

It also eases some of the difficulties associated with putting homeless people in commercial spaces on a temporary basis.

The hotel industry in Victoria balked slightly when the city council there voted to have the British Columbia government take over hotels.

The chairman of the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria said there were serious questions about how it would work, especially in spaces that are still operating.

Ottawa has also found it increasingly difficult to find hotel operators willing to take homeless people in.

There are also questions about whether managed drug and alcohol use would be allowed for tenants with dependencies issues in commercial spaces, Burkholder Harris said.

The spaces will also come in handy if COVID-19 resurfaces, especially since there is no vaccine, said Toronto Board of Health chair Counsellor Joe Cressy.

It wouldn’t make sense to rapidly house people and evict them into crowded shelters again once the crisis ebbs, only to then find new spaces again if a second wave strikes, he said.

Cressy said COVID-19 is preying on poverty and cities have an obligation to find long-term solutions.

“There is a public health requirement for all three levels of government to address housing inequity right now,” he said.

Federal and provincial funds havent’ been nearly enough to cover the major cost of buying up hotels and other private buildings, but Cressey said Toronto is keeping the receipts and he urged other municipalities to do the same.

“We can’t afford not to solve chronic homelessness. COVID-19 has exposed that,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2020

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tourism Wells Gray looks at silver linings

Domestic tourism and pipeline workers may compensate for some of the lost tourism dollars this year

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

RV habitation once again a discussion topic for TNRD

“I don’t imagine for a moment that we’ve heard the last of the RV issue”

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Andrew Weaver says he was ready to defeat John Horgan government

Independent MLA blasts B.C. Greens over LNG opposition

44% fewer passengers flew on Canadian airlines in March 2020 than in 2019

COVID-19 pandemic has hit airlines hard as travel remains low

Most Read