Homelessness

Inside Victoria’s New Temporary Hotels for the Homeless

Clean rooms, round-the-clock outreach workers, and semi-regular fires

By Anna J. James
June 4, 2020
Homelessness

Inside Victoria’s New Temporary Hotels for the Homeless

Clean rooms, round-the-clock outreach workers, and semi-regular fires

By Anna J. James
Jun 4, 2020
The exterior of the Howard Johnson, one of several hotels now hosting relocated tent city campers (Anna J. James)
Homelessness

Inside Victoria’s New Temporary Hotels for the Homeless

Clean rooms, round-the-clock outreach workers, and semi-regular fires

By Anna J. James
June 4, 2020
Inside Victoria’s New Temporary Hotels for the Homeless
The exterior of the Howard Johnson, one of several hotels now hosting relocated tent city campers (Anna J. James)

In the parking lot of the Howard Johnson hotel on Gorge Road, a man in his late-thirties in a tracksuit glances anxiously at his phone. When approached by a reporter and asked about the property behind him, the man, who called himself B. and inferred that he was a dealer, said “this is a drug hotel.” 

Just two days before this encounter,  on May 20, the Howard Johnson officially opened its doors to accommodate those evicted from the dismantled tent cities that were originally designed for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Although these measures are costly and extensive, we are doing this not only for the clients but the general public in case a second wave of the pandemic hits,” said a social worker who wished not to be named. They are collaborating with the Portland Hotel Society, who is responsible for the 50 bed set-up at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

The Howard Johnson is well-equipped for the new clientele with boxes of takeout food, bags of chips, and cups of fresh soup available in the lobby. A conference room has been converted into an extensive harm-reduction site manned by SOLID Outreach, Peers, and workers from other agencies who check each room three times per day.

The room sports a long table covered with drug use supplies including needles, vitamin C, pipes, condoms, tampons, and other medical aids. There’s also a hot drink station, water cooler, and a giant box of doughnuts with, “Let a staff member get one for you! :)” inscribed on the lid. In the hallway, a sheet is tacked to the wall where the residents can request amenities such as dish soap and toilet paper. 

The hotel appears functional and sanitary, with an almost cheery atmosphere. The same cannot be said for the surrounding neighbourhood. 


“Agencies must be responsible for their clients,” said Gorge resident Gary Barker, showing The Capital a series of photos he has taken with his phone of discarded needles, dismantled bikes, and a hotel parking lot covered with junk.

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“I view this is a social contract. If we give people [who are relocated to the Gorge hotels] everything, how can they become a productive member of our community?” said Barker. “I make a compassionate plea. Don’t shit in the carpark. Form a group, be part of the growth and safety of this environment.” 

Over 300 people have been relocated from the tent cities across a number of repurposed facilities throughout Victoria including The Comfort Inn recently purchased by B.C. Housing for $18.5 million.

The Comfort Inn, run by Our Place Society, is now home to 93 people. Each room offers standard hotel amenities: a double bed, 55-inch television with basic cable, bathroom, small fridge (and access to a patio where patrons can smoke opioids). Despite the exhaustive facilities, already, there are issues. Early Sunday morning, firefighters attended to a blaze in a room causing the hotel to be temporarily evacuated. Another fire on Tuesday morning, left 20 suites with water damage

The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, like the other sites The Capital visited, appears well-staffed and orderly. There is one entry and one exit point at the arena with a handwashing station and several security personnel. Around fifty beds are set up “on the ice” in addition to an onsite consumption site run by SOLID, and an external smoking tent cloaked by tarps printed with an idyllic mountain scene.

A tent city resident shows the updates provided on housing options (Anna J. James)

The converted hockey arena, home of the Victoria Royals, is a temporary measure. The worker believes move-out day is end of June but said, “It’s not like we will kick anyone out if there’s nowhere to go.”

Meanwhile, BC Housing just purchased Paul’s Motor Inn to function as a shelter facility, and the City of Victoria is proposing to use the balance of its COVID-19 funding, $300,000, to rent rooms for the homeless. "There are a number of hotels and motels fully closed that may welcome some source of revenue from the provincial government,'' Mayor Lisa Helps told the press on May 17. "I don't care how people get inside; if it's hotels, motels, arenas, community centres, it doesn't matter to me.’'

Despite the shift from tents to hotels, it’s business as usual in the Victoria drug economy, at least for B. who heads to the bus stop: “More people to see.”

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