Hotels for now, but what's ahead for homeless post-COVID-19?
LONDON, ONT. -- Hotels have become a safer space to wait out the pandemic for Londoners experiencing homelessness, but some worry it’s only a temporary reprieve from the streets and shelters.
“We’re together. Nobody bothers us. We don’t bother anybody else.”
Bill and Marie, both in their 60s, are among 114 Londoners already relocated from shelters to 86 hotel rooms.
In total, city hall has secured 115 hotel rooms to free up space for physical distancing in shelters, and separate those most at risk.
“They’re for the COVID-vulnerable population, that would be; seniors, people that have a medical condition, a heart or respiratory issue,” explains city hall’s Manager of Homeless Prevention Craig Cooper.
After a couple days in his hotel room, Mike is experiencing the stability he needs to start working towards a permanent apartment.
“I think this is what it’s going to take to at least get my foot in the door right now.”
Housing advocate Abe Oudshoorn says London has been ahead of other cities, by providing hotel rooms and outdoor hand-washing stations for people experiencing homelessness.
Oudshoorn says the hotel rooms are an extension of ‘housing-first’ policies, "If people have a safe, stable permanent place to stay that they can afford, that’s a foundation to address other challenges in their lives.”
But already some living in the hotel rooms are wondering if they’ll be returned to shelters or the streets when the pandemic ends.
Bill would consider that a setback, “Right now we’ll just take it as it goes. It’s all we can do right now.”
“Ideally at the end of this, people aren’t just turned back to shelter, but that they’re moved into permanent housing options,” Oudshoorn says.
Cooper says city hall will try, “I can't make a guarantee, but I can commit to working with the individuals, and the shelters in our system to help those people.”
Next week, it is anticipated that city council will launch several new housing initiatives that could serve as stepping stones between hotel rooms and permanent housing.
Cooper adds that the housing crisis remains a priority even as attention has turned to COVID-19.
“We’re going to try to get those programs up and running before those hotel stays end - help as many people as we can.”