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

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Fundraiser seeks to buy ‘tiny home’ for Abbotsford woman with severe allergies

Katie Hobson cannot live in regular accommodation due to debilitating health issues

Recreational chinook openings leave First Nations frustrated on the Lower Fraser

Limited recreational openings for chinook on the Chehalis and Chilliwack rivers being questioned

Some Chilliwack residents dealing with water on land and underground

City reminds homeowners to be ready for basement floods as Fraser River and water table rises

RCMP ask for help to find missing Chilliwack teenager

Eighteen-year-old Abigail Amber Peters Swan was last seen in Abbotsford

Instagram user claims Abbotsford Senior VP messaged followers to shut down page

@A.S.S.S.Confessions page claims school officials contacted families to find out person behind page

Horrifying video shows near head-on collision on Trans Canada

The video was captured on dash cam along Highway 1

COVID-19: B.C. promotes video-activated services card

Mobile app allows easier video identity verification

ICBC to resume road tests in July with priority for rebookings, health-care workers

Tests have been on hold for four months due to COVID-19

Would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? Poll suggests most Canadians say yes

75 per cent of Canadians would agree to take a novel coronavirus vaccine

Budget officer pegs cost of basic income as calls for it grow due to COVID-19

Planned federal spending to date on pandemic-related aid now tops about $174 billion

Sexologist likens face mask debate to condom debate: What can we learn from it?

Society’s approach to condom usage since the 1980s can be applied to face masks today, one expert says

Popular Lower Mainland Thanksgiving festivities cancelled by COVID

Fort Langley’s 25th annual Cranberry Festival put off until 2021, to avoid spread of virus

B.C. homeowners plead for action on condo insurance crisis

Strata property fees growing bigger than mortgage payments

Most Read