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

Surrey RCMP Constable Mike Della-Paolera as seen in a cut-out used for the detachment’s Operation Double Take program. (File photo)
Surrey’s tall ‘Operation Double Take’ cop is on the move

Cut-out of Constable Mike Della-Paolera used in program to curb speeding and dangerous driving

In 2017, a member of the Disneyana Fan Club curated a small Community Treasures exhibit at the Museum of Surrey about the early days of Disney and the cartoonist Walt Disney. The museum is now accepting applications for its 2022 Community Treasures exhibition. (Photo: Submitted)
Museum of Surrey wants to spotlight local organizations and clubs

Museum now accepting applications for its 2022 Community Treasures exhibit

Musician Dana Vande is seen in a screenshot from a music video on Youtube. Vande recently released a pro-lockdown track in response to an Eric Clapton and Van Morrison anti-lockdown track.
Cloverdale musician writes pandemic response song to Van Morrison and Eric Clapton

Dana Vande answers a Clapton-Morrison anti-lockdown track with a pro-lockdown track

Family and friends of Hudson Brooks marched as part of a call for answers from an IIO investigation into his 2015 death. (Black Press Media files)
Inquest to look into RCMP shooting death of Hudson Brooks

Charges agains the RCMP officer who shot Brooks were stayed in 2019

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Delta Police dog retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

(Realtor.ca)
Rent dropped to 2019 rates across parts of Metro Vancouver in December: Rentals.ca report

Rent costs have declined since May, a trend expected to continue due in part to the COVID pandemic

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Most Read