As part of a larger plan to establish affordable housing, local government agencies have been transforming out-of-business hotels into temporary shelters.
As the pandemic rages on even in some of the world's most developed countries, governments have been forced to find new ways to protect their most vulnerable populations. Most recently, Canada stepped up to purchase hotels in order to house homeless people. Local government agencies will also rehire staff members who had to be laid off due to a lack of business. The initiative is intended to protect the North American nation's poorest and most desperate while also providing a much-needed boost to the rapidly slacking economy. The British Columbian government made the announcement in a post uploaded to Twitter last week.
British Columbia Housing stated, "New homes are on the way for Victoria residents who need them most. The Province bought the Comfort Inn Hotel at 3020 Blanshard Street for housing with supports. Later, the site could provide a range of affordable housing." They added in a follow-up tweet, "We look forward to bringing many of the Comfort Inn employees onto our team - they have the skills and experience we need. We are in the process of reaching out to all employees (check your email inbox!)." The agency also provided a link to an official statement about the initiative, posted to their website.
The project will ensure all those residing in the recently-purchased hotel will have access to meals, health-care services, addictions treatment and harm reduction, storage for personal belongings, and other forms of support. Selina Robinson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, affirmed, "Everyone deserves to have safe, stable housing they can afford, and this site offers great potential to deliver a mix of permanent housing to meet the needs of people in Victoria. This will further add to the significant efforts underway with community and local government partners in the Capital Regional District to tackle the housing crisis and build the homes people need."
The site is expected to provide 65 rooms to be used as temporary accommodations. In the future, these rooms will be converted to affordable housing facilities. Those currently living in encampments on the Pandora Avenue corridor and Topaz Park will be the project's first residents. "This is a substantial investment in our community and will provide housing for those who need it most," Lisa Helps, the mayor of the City of Victoria, said. “This site has significant redevelopment potential to provide a range of affordable housing in the long term. I look forward to working with the community and with BC Housing to determine the long-term use of this site."
Shane Simpson, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, added, "Often people experiencing homelessness are not able to access the support and services they need. The purchase of the Comfort Inn, combined with medical and social supports, will help people make the transition from the street to permanent housing." The site will be managed by a new community advisory committee that will comprise representatives from the Hillside Quadra and Burnside Gorge community associations as well as the surrounding community. The project is only a small part of the British Columbia Housing's larger plan to build approximately 3,330 new affordable homes for people with a range of incomes in the Capital Regional District.
Meanwhile, in the United States, our homeless shelters are flanked with our country's most vulnerable. Over the past few weeks, shelters across the nation have experienced overcrowding and a severe strain on resources. This is especially dangerous during the ongoing pandemic as, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of spread is greater in areas where social distancing and isolation are not possible. Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, stated, "The findings are another example of how the epidemic has highlighted our shortcomings in terms of being able to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens." Perhaps it is time for our local governments to take a leaf out of Canada's book, ramp up spending, and finally rise to the occasion.