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Courtenay Mayor says city ‘pushing’ to move homeless into hotel rooms

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells says the city is pushing to move its most vulnerable into local hotel rooms.

Last weekend, BC Housing started moving Victoria’s homeless from encampments into hotel rooms to protect them from COVID-19.

Wells would like to see Courtenay follow suit.

“So we’ve really been pushing the province to provide those hotel rooms and again, it’s something that looks like is on the horizon,” Wells said.

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“I think we do have some already in play but really, we need to have much more, I think, to really tackle this problem.”

Since March, the province, in partnership with BC Housing and local municipalities, has worked to secure and operate 686 hotel and community centre accommodations in Vancouver, and 324 hotel spaces in Victoria. 

Locally, Wells said that the city has been talking to the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, and frontline workers, since mid-March “to see what the needs are.”

On March 16th, Courtenay closed all city facilities to the public until further notice.

Wells said “literally the next day,” the city started discussions with the province about plans to help the community’s most vulnerable.

“At the same time on March 16th, we started coming up with a plan to, even though we were closing down facilities, to actually see how we could open them up.”

Wells pointed out that a few days later, city washrooms and showers reopened “so that people could safely clean themselves.”

“So that’s something that the city took seriously right away,” the Mayor said. 

Wells said that since March 17th, the city has been asking the province what its plans were to mitigate homeless camps and protect people living on the streets.

He added that those are “unhealthy situations which really puts them at a predisposition of infections, and not just infections, but outbreaks where you have these sort of super ceders.”

If the homeless aren’t able to protect and physical distance themselves properly, they’re put at risk, Wells said. 

He said that’s a “recipe for disaster.”

Wells said the move from encampments in Victoria and Vancouver to hotels is being done in collaboration with hotel owners, “to make sure there is a good contract and there’s good faith, and that the hotel owners can trust that things are going to be looked after.”

He believes that it would be the exact same situation in the Comox Valley.

“In fact, I know organizations like Dawn to Dawn have been doing this for quite some time, and it’s where they actually have support workers, working with the people who are staying in the hotels, so that they can be managed a little bit better, and again, give that measure of comfort to the owners to know that their properties are going to be looked after.”

Wells believes that one of the city councillors will be bringing forth a motion at next Monday’s meeting, to send a request, likely to both BC Housing and the province. 

“We don’t have a real playbook,” Wells said. “We’re kind of learning as we go, here, is a bit of a challenge, but I think it’s certainly a priority for most of the people locally here and we want to make sure that we get on this as quickly as possible.”

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