British Columbia

B.C. government buys Victoria hotel to house the homeless

The Comfort Inn will be used in the short-term to house homeless people camped on Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park with long-term plans to be determined with community input.

The Comfort Inn will be used short-term to house homeless camped on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park

The Comfort Inn, at 3020 Blanshard St. in Victoria, B.C., has been purchased by the provincial government and will have 65 rooms of temporary accommodations with wraparound supports for people currently living in encampments on the Pandora Avenue corridor and Topaz Park. (Comfort Inn & Suites Victoria/Facebook)

People sleeping on the street or in a city park in Victoria, B.C., could soon have four walls and a bed indoors after the provincial government bought an area hotel to house them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province has purchased the Comfort Inn Hotel, located at 3020 Blanshard St., to provide more affordable homes for people in the capital city.

According to the government, the hotel will immediately be used to provide safe shelter for people living in homeless camps on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park, and the province will engage with the local community to determine how the hotel will be configured for affordable housing after that. 

Topaz Park was chosen by the city in March as a designated site for the homeless to camp during the current health emergency to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Since then, the province, and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, have said the eventual plan is to move people into temporary shelter indoors.

In April, city council passed a motion to pressure the province to pony up and purchase hotels in order for that to happen.

The City of Victoria allowed people living on the streets to camp in Topaz Park during the COVID-19 pandemic. The province is planning to move campers indoors into safe, temporary accomodations by May 20. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

According to the province, there are 65 rooms available at the hotel and Island Health and B.C. Housing will refer people for those spots. 

"The reality is it is kind of a one bite at a time process and this is a significant bite," Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, said Friday on CBC's On The Island.

The province paid approximately $18.5 million to acquire The Comfort Inn. While this was an outright purchase, the province has also leased hotels in Victoria and Vancouver to house people during the pandemic.

According to Simpson, the government tries to hire back staff that have been laid off at the hotels.

The minister called leasing hotels "a bit of a win-win situation" for hotel operators who can earn some revenue while tourism and travel are on hold. 

Services on site

The Comfort Inn will be operated by Our Place Society, a local organization that already offers support to the homeless.

The society has partnered with B.C. Housing to provide hotel occupants with meals, health-care services, storage for personal belongings, as well as addictions treatment and harm reduction.

The hotel will be staffed 24/7 to provide security to the building's residents and the surrounding neighbourhood.

"We intend to serve this vulnerable population with dignity," Grant McKenzie, Our Place spokesperson, said in a statement.

Simpson said he hopes the supports in place at the hotel will help people make the transition from the street to permanent housing.

The province had originally set a deadline of May 9 for people to leave tent cities in Victoria and move into "safer, temporary" accommodation. That deadline has now been extended until May 20.

In a media release, the province said B.C. Housing will set up an advisory committee with representatives from the Hillside Quadra and Burnside Gorge community associations to oversee the supportive housing's integration into the neighbourhood.