COVID-19: City of Victoria calls on province to commandeer hotel rooms for homeless

Victoria mayor suggests ‘seizing’ vacated hotel rooms to house B.C. homeless
WATCH: Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is suggesting the provincial government could "seize" some hotel rooms and use them to house homeless people during the coronavirus crisis.

The City of Victoria is urging the province to requisition hotel and motel rooms to house homeless people during the COVID-19 crisis.

City council voted to ask B.C. Premier John Horgan to use its powers under the Emergency Program Act to requisition hotel rooms as a way to address the homeless population currently living in tents on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park.

Impact of coronavirus on B.C. tourism will be devastating
Impact of coronavirus on B.C. tourism will be devastating

If that fails, the city wants to declare a local state of emergency and take the rooms itself.

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“My hope is that the province takes seriously council’s motion and takes action,” Mayor Lisa Helps said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Free hotel room program for essential workers running out of funds

Bill Lewis, chair of the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria, says he has fielded calls from industry colleagues who are sympathetic to the COVID-19 crisis but are worried for the safety of their employees.

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“We don’t feel forcing hotels to accommodate homeless people is a solution,” he said.

“I think we’re just concerned about non-traditional use of hotel rooms and that it might incur more damage than we’re generally used to.”

Helps says she understands the concerns hoteliers having to house people currently living in tents on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park.

“What won’t work is taking people from Pandora and Topaz and just putting them in the Empress [Hotel],” she said.

What will work, according to Helps, is a model that offers fair compensation to hotel owners, a guarantee that properties will be in returned in good condition and health-care supports for hotel residents.

READ MORE: ‘This is unprecedented’ — B.C.’s hotel industry takes big hit during coronavirus crisis

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Of the hotels and motels asked, only a couple were willing to lease out rooms, but many hotels say they haven’t been approached at all, raising the question of whether all hotels should be canvassed before the call goes out to the provincial government.

“I think the position we have as a hotel association is that we would like the hoteliers to have the choice to make that decision,” Lewis said.