Vancouver hotel opens for homeless people who have to self-isolate


A hotel in Vancouver is the city’s first private space converted into housing for the homeless because of COVID-19.

The hotel is among 21 sites announced Tuesday by the province to house the homeless and vulnerable people. Some of the 939 total spaces are reserved for the homeless who need to self-isolate and others who have COVID-19 and need a place to recover after being discharged from hospital.

The province chose not to name the Vancouver hotel or any of the other hotels or motels converted into housing for the homeless.

Other new public sites for the homeless include 110 beds at North Surrey Recreation Centre, eight beds at Kalein Hospice Centre in Vernon and 70 beds at the Vernon Curling Club.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said that “the names of hotels and motels have been excluded so that these facilities can operate privately and focus on helping people who need a safe place to self-isolate.”

In Vancouver, the 60-unit private hotel will be operated by Atira Women’s Society. Janice Abbott, the society’s CEO, said she wasn’t going to identify the hotel. “Hopefully, the government will identify where it is because everybody in the immediate vicinity will know,” she said.

On March 27, the first two sites in the program were announced by Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart: The Coal Harbour Community Centre and Roundhouse Community Centre were converted into housing for homeless people who need to maintain social distance and self-isolate.

The cost of the 23 sites won’t be known until after the pandemic is over. The ministry said in an email that hotel spaces were secured at “a significant cost savings, below market rental rate.”

Abbott said creating spaces for homeless people and other vulnerable groups is a wise use of resources. “When people have symptoms that are mild, it doesn’t make sense to keep them in hospital,” she said. “This frees up beds for people who are severely” ill.

She said being homeless means it is really challenging to self-isolate because one is always in the community among people.

“It not only keeps the community safe, it’s an ethical or moral obligation to the people themselves,” she said about providing housing for the homeless.

Atira operates four transition houses, a women’s emergency shelter, and long-term housing for women.

In the hotel, guests will be able to leave their rooms but will have to stay in the building, she said. Abbott said Atira offered jobs to all hotel staff; eight of 10 chose to stay.

Abbott said all guests will be referrals by Vancouver Coastal Health. The number of people in the hotel depends on how much COVID-19 spreads in the Downtown Eastside, she said.

Three weeks ago Atira started implementing new cleaning protocols at all of its properties. At the hotel, it includes an external cleaner who comes in once a day to clean and sanitize; cleaning staff on site will every hour clean and sanitize frequently touched surfaces.

Meals will be provided by the hotel restaurant.

Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing, said non-profit societies will oversee day-to-day management of the hotels, motels and community centres set aside for the homeless during the pandemic.

“These new spaces are a critical part of how we can support those who are vulnerable in our community, including those who are experiencing homelessness or living in communal locations where the virus could spread more quickly,” Robinson said in a news release.