Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she doesn’t care how people get inside, but that people should be able to find shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to comply with the provincial health officer’s physical distancing and isolation orders.
In a briefing on Friday, April 17, Helps said BC Housing is slowly moving people into existing hotel rooms and that the effort is being coordinated by BC Housing and Island Health. However, she noted they’ve only been able to secure 195 hotel and motel rooms, with between 300 to 400 people still outside and unsheltered.
Her statement came in response to questions regarding an announcement made about a council decision from Thursday stating that Helps, on behalf of council, has written a letter to the B.C. premier, solicitor general and ministers of housing, health and mental health and addictions requesting that the province use emergency powers under the Emergency Program Act to requisition hotel and motel rooms for all unhoused people in the Capital Region and provide the health, mental health and added support for those people moving in.
If the province is unwilling to do so, the City would request that the authority declare a local state of emergency to requisition hotel and motel rooms for unsheltered people in the City and work with BC Housing and Island Health to provide the units to people who are asymptomatic but at risk of contracting COVID-19.
In response to a question during the Friday briefing, Helps said the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria was not consulted in the decision to send the letter but that “normal chains of consultation sometimes fall to the wayside” during a medical emergency.
“I don’t care how people get inside … what matters is people can follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders,” Helps said.
Dr. Richard Stanwick, the chief medical health officer for Island Health, stressed the lack of shelter could be a problem for everyone, and Helps said the City has been taking direction from Stanwick since “day one.”
According to helps, Stanwick noted people living on the street are part of the general population and that an outbreak amongst the demographic would have an impact on frontline workers as well as put stress on the health care system.
Whether or not hotels and motels are requisitioned is be up to the province, Helps noted.
The decision to put people in hotels and motels as a first priority is coming from Stanwick’s advice, Helps said, because people would have private spaces and washrooms to stay isolated. The next option would be to house them in indoor congregate areas such as recreation and community centres which is not as ideal because of shared facilities.
About three weeks ago, the City of Victoria told the province and BC Housing to use whatever spaces they require for shelter purposes with the exception of facilities such as those that still have child care operating.
“We’ve offered up everything we have,” Helps said. “Any of our facilities are open to BC Housing to shelter people inside so we’ll leave it to BC Housing to determine what’s best.”