July 15, 2021
The Honourable David Eby, QC
Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing
Sent via email: [email protected]
Re: Community concern that the elimination of any ‘social distancing’ COVID-19 hotel rooms will exit people to street homelessness
Dear Minister Eby:
As the province continues to make tremendous strides in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the recent positive news that we have entered Phase 3 of our re-opening plan, now seems timely to write to you to express a growing concern across our membership regarding the health and wellbeing for the many homeless people who have been temporarily housed in hotels. In this we are mindful as well of the backdrop of the heat crisis that recently gripped the entire province – which adds to our sense of urgency with our call to ensure that vulnerable people are safely housed.
As you know, providing housing through hotels in different communities during the COVID-19 pandemic provided much needed living space for many who previously had been homeless. It allowed people to socially distance, but also to enjoy relief / a lifeline from the interconnected dangers of being on the street.
PAN* and our members deeply appreciate how the province and your Ministry has partnered with the federal government and different municipalities to tackle the issue of homelessness on multiple fronts over the past 18 months – including the purchase of hotels and providing access to rooms as temporary spaces, allowing residents a secure location for up to six months before transitioning to more permanent, supportive housing options. Today, our question is around the transition – the next steps – and wanting to ensure that no one gets left behind either by design, insufficient timelines and support, or lack of planning.
As the Executive Director of one of our member organizations states:
We hold a contract with BC Housing for 13 COVID hotel rooms. Although these are intended to be ‘social distancing’ rooms to ease the capacity issues at our shelter, we know there are more than 13 individuals accessing the rooms for overnight stays. People who are assigned the rooms, are allowing friends/family to stay overnight who have nowhere else to go. The true number of folks staying there is likely double that. Eliminating the COVID hotels rooms here will exit people to street homelessness. When people are housed in these rooms, we are able to connect with them easily and provide outreach services and essential items. It is much easier to connect them to necessary health and social supports if they have a “place’ to be, instead of couch surfing or being moved along each day by Bylaw. This creates better health and social outcomes in a variety of ways, not just for the individual, but for the whole community.
This same member has also shared that they are at capacity, even after BC Housing extended their Extreme Weather Response funding this year, and do not have enough shelter spaces or housing in their community. The applications for their Supportive Housing facility sits at around 70, but they only have 28 units available – all of them full. They are also aware of more street homeless individuals that do not, or cannot access shelter for a variety of reasons. The homeless count taken 2 years ago showed 121 people experiencing homelessness, and they know in reality the number of people experiencing homelessness is higher.
We offer this up as a “case study”. We know, from speaking with other members that similar concerns and situations exist in communities in every health region of the province. Many of our members note that the hotel rooms have offered their clients and members a way of connecting to the care and supports they need – be it OAT, stabilizing on their HIV, hepatitis C or other medication – while maintaining some level of low barrier independence.
In their 2021-24 service plan, BC Housing commits to working with your Ministry to support the development and implementation of a provincial homelessness strategy. How is the COVID-19 response factoring into and supporting this larger piece of work? How will the province ensure that individuals currently housed in the hotel rooms, do not fall through the cracks only to be consigned to homelessness again, as the pandemic “winds down”?
The provincial response to COVID-19, and the superior outcomes that BC has enjoyed compared to other jurisdictions, clearly demonstrates that if the political will is there, we can move people from homelessness into housing. We must not lose any of the progress made, and in fact we need to do better.
Minister Eby, we would welcome the opportunity to hear more about your strategy and vision, to ensure that the housing needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society will be met in the coming months.
J. Evin Jones
Executive Director, PAN
CC: Shayne Ramsay, CEO, BC Housing
Katrina Jensen, Co-Chair, PAN & Executive Director, AVI Health and Community Services
Patrick McDougall, Co-Chair, PAN & Director of Knowledge Translation and Research, Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation
* Minister Eby, you will recall that PAN is a proactive provincial network of 40 community-based and allied organizations working to address HIV, hepatitis C and the overdose crisis. PAN facilitates communication and the sharing of best practices, and provides professional/workforce development and leadership trainings to our members and people with lived or living experience (PWLLE). We also provide face-to-face networking opportunities, research and evaluation; and undertake collective action to influence public perceptions and policies affecting persons living with HIV, hepatitis C, those most “at risk” and other PWLLE.