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

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

Tina Starkey with her seven-month-old puppy Sugar on the E&N Trail in Esquimalt. Starkey now carries a small personal alarm device, her thumb on the button. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Encounters leave Vic West women concerned for her safety

The 50-year-old wants self defence training, says she’s not alone

The Victoria Fire Department was able to contain a fire to one room after a bed placed directly against a heater ignited. (Black Press Media file photo)
Early morning structure fire leaves 2 cats dead

Victoria Fire Department called out shortly before 2 a.m.

FUN IN THE SUN
Soloman and seven-year-old Zev Nagler dig up a crab in the tidal flats in Witty's Lagoon Regional Park as part of Metchosin Biodiversity Day on Saturday. (James MacKenzie/Black Press)
Witty’s Beach stair access closed again

Repairs will be complete by summer, mayor says

Starting in June, Government Street will be closed to most vehicles between Humboldt and View streets. A section of Government Street was transformed into a pedestrian-priority walkway in the wake of COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria plans 10-hour closures of Government Street come June

City’s business relief plan extended, Government St. from Humboldt to View closed noon to 10 p.m.

The Better Business Bureau is reminding people to do their research before starting any home improvement projects this spring. (Black Press Media file photo)
Don’t get scammed on home improvements, warns Better Business Bureau

Scams typically involve paying cash upfront for jobs that never get done, says BBB

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to announce travel restrictions today to limit COVID-19 spread

Mike Farnworth is expected to give details of what the government views as essential travel

A downed power line has sparked a brush fire along Yellow Point Road south of Nanaimo. (Cole Schisler/Black Press)
Vancouver Islanders warned of fire risk caused by dry conditions

As dry spell poised to end, officials warn of risks involved with backyard burning

Richard Desautel with supporters outside the courthouse in Nelson, B.C., in 2016. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
UPDATED: Sinixt, First Nation bordering Canada-U.S., can claim Indigenous rights, top court rules

The decision essentially reverses a 1956 declaration the Sinixt were extinct

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Most Read