Ottawa

City mulls hotel purchase to house homeless during pandemic and beyond

The City of Ottawa is considering buying a hotel to give vulnerable people safe shelter during and after the pandemic, but the plan hinges on other levels of government pitching in.

Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa proposed idea in open letter to council

Ottawa is considering a proposal to buy hotels in order to provide both short- and long-term support for vulnerable people. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The City of Ottawa is considering buying a hotel to give vulnerable people safe shelter during and after the pandemic, but the plan hinges on other levels of government pitching in.

"We are realizing that as we look at hotels and we have more positive cases, we are looking at our needs being greater," Donna Gray, the city's general manager of community and social services, said during a teleconference Monday.

"Lease-buy options or buy options for the future are definitely on the table."

Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa wrote an open letter to city council on April 8 urging the city to buy hotels to address both short- and long-term needs of homeless people. 

 

"We have an opportunity in this moment of crisis to do two strategic things at once by purchasing willing near-empty hotel buildings for people experiencing homelessness," according to the letter, which was co-signed by 20 organizations and agencies.

"Outright purchase of hotels will not only provide safe, self-contained space for people on the street right now to stay during this pandemic, the City will also own building assets that can later be converted to a range of permanent supportive and affordable housing options based on people's need."

'With crisis comes opportunity'

The move would go toward fulfilling Ottawa's 10-year plan to end homelessness, the letter said. About two months before the city declared a state of emergency in response to the pandemic, it symbolically declared a housing and homelessness emergency.

"Whether we realize this or not, these two emergencies are creating a perfect storm for Ottawa," the letter reads.

"With crisis comes opportunity. At the intersection of two crises, we have an opportunity to be strategic in how we move forward to address not just immediate issues, but the homelessness emergency that has been slowly building for members of our community over the past several decades."

Gray said Ottawa would need more support from the federal or provincial governments before entering into any purchase agreement.

"Buying a hotel at this time would be a significant investment for the city and we'd need to do that in partnership with our other levels of government," she said.

On Monday the city announced how it would spend $11.4 million in social services relief from the federal and Ontario governments to help temporarily house people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.

Part of the strategy involves acquiring hotel rooms to house vulnerable people, including up to 50 rooms for women and youth who need emergency shelter during the pandemic.

Gray said it's becoming increasingly difficult for the city to find hotels willing to rent rooms to people who test positive for COVID-19.

"We are definitely looking at leasing hotel rooms in the short term to address our immediate response to COVID, but we are also thinking in the long term," she said. 

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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