Hotel room program to prevent COVID-19 among London's homeless population could be in jeopardy
LONDON, ONT. -- City housing officials and local social services agencies are growing anxious that a hotel room funding program that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population could soon dry up.
“We’re always worried,” said Kevin Dickins, the city’s managing director of housing and social services. “We were worried we weren’t going to get the funding we needed to get to this point.”
So far there has been just one outbreak of COVID-19 within the city’s shelter system.
Health unit officials announced earlier this month that Men’s Mission on York Street had been hit with the virus.
City officials believe it could have been much worse if not for a funding program to house vulnerable people in hotel rooms during the pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, the city has been spending about $250,000 on the program, with funding from senior governments.
More than 200 people, who would otherwise be sleeping rough, have taken part.
Dickins says he believes funding can be stretched until the end of April. Beyond that is up in the air.
“This type of intervention has done wonders to prevent and limit the spread of COVID among the vulnerable population that is often very, very social, and is often known to congregate because that’s how services are typically delivered.”
Dickins says the city is working with several social services agencies in helping to house people in hotel rooms, including Atlohsa Healing Services for Indigenous people.
Atlohsa’s Director of Community Planning, Andrea Jibb, says nine of the agency’s clients are currently benefiting from the program.
“And so it was absolutely crucial that we relocated to hotels where we could keep everybody safe during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide for adequate social distancing for our population which is already highly medically vulnerable, and vulnerable due to being de-housed and not having access to housing.”
Dickins says the city is working closely with the province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to come up with a solution that prevents people from having to go back to living rough again come spring.
“We appreciate the support to do something during COVID as a response to keep people safe, but once you build it, it’s incredibly difficult to take it away.”