Global News: Advocates push Ottawa to buy hotels as housing for city’s homeless during coronavirus pandemic

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By Craig Lord; Photo by Beatrice Britneff

As many hotels across the nation’s capital sit empty, some are seeing an opportunity to both protect the city’s vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic and address long-term homelessness concerns in Ottawa.

Advocates working to promote affordable housing in Ottawa are teaming up with

the city’s emergency shelters for the #Hotels2Homes campaign, a push for the city to purchase hotels or motels as multi-unit housing options to protect Ottawa’s homeless and vulnerable populations during the pandemic.

Organizers are holding a social media blitz on Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to pressure Ottawa city councillors, Mayor Jim Watson and local members of Parliament for federal funding to support the initiative.

The City of Ottawa has already announced $11.4 million in spending — sourced from both federal and provincial funding pools — to address issues such as overcrowding in the city’s emergency shelter system by renting hotel rooms and providing housing support agencies with much-needed cash to finance their work during the pandemic.

But Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney, who spearheaded a successful campaign to have the city declare a housing emergency in January, says renting hotel rooms during the pandemic is thinking too short-term.

When the pandemic ends and the majority of residents return to some semblance of normalcy, Ottawa’s vulnerable populations will still be sent back to an overcrowded shelter system.

“It is absolutely unconscionable that we will come out of this pandemic, all of us will come out of our homes eventually, and (we will) send people back into crowded shelters,” McKenney tells Global News.

Though McKenney believes many members of Ottawa’s hotel sector will also bounce back from the pandemic, which has kneecapped the city’s tourism industry amid a virtual standstill on travel, there may be some hotels that are not viable in the long term.

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