Motel used as supportive living during COVID-19

By Brian Dodd and Rachael Cormier, Hope and Area Transition Society

October 30, 2020

man sits on a chair in front of a blue hotel room with his husky dog at his feet

Twinkle-lights, throw-carpets and collections of rocks and wood pieces adorn a number of rooms at a motel in Hope, BC. The rooms are kept immaculate – inside and out – because those living in the rooms are thrilled to have a space to call their own.

"Having my own room is 1,000% better than sharing a room. I feel better, rested and safer" - one of the individuals living at the motel

“Having my own bathroom with no limits on how long I can spend in there and having a bathtub gives me more dignity, makes me feel more peaceful and less anxious,” said another resident of the motel.

These are two of 13 people temporarily living at the motel as part of an initiative to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst those experiencing homelessness. Prior to April 2020, these 13 people were living at the House of Hope shelter in Hope. On April 1, they moved to their new private rooms at the motel.

“In all aspects, living here compared to the shelter is 100% better,” commented another one of the guests.

The purpose of the move was to isolate the existing guests from new guests being brought into the shelter to diminish the risk of anyone contracting COVID-19. The initiative to use hotels and motels as safe places for the homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic is being paid for by the provincial government and organized by BC Housing. Throughout BC, roughly 3,000 isolation spaces have been secured in hotels, motels and community facilities to help vulnerable populations remain safe during the pandemic.

Of the 13 individuals who moved into the motel in Hope, four of those guests had been at the House of Hope shelter for more than a year, living in a communal setting; dorm style, on bunks. The average stay at the shelter for these 13 guests was 216 days.

view of a guest

Since moving to the motel, these individuals have been able to restart their lives in a more traditional supportive housing situation. The supportive housing style units at the motel are being operated by the Hope and Area Transition Society. Each guest has their own room (many with kitchenettes), three meals a day, access to the mental health nurse three days a week, access to a physician every second or third week, and access to an on-site support worker 24/7. Outreach workers visit the site daily to assist with connecting guests with community services and possible long-term housing.

Staff have observed many positive changes in the guests and their behaviours. Most of them are thriving in the new environment. Personal hygiene has improved, medications are taken on a regular basis, rooms are kept tidy, and they have established daily routines. The guests seem to have a sense of dignity; they have decorated their rooms and are proud of their accomplishments.

The guests themselves have stated:

"I’m feeling a lot healthier."

"I haven’t been this happy in a long time."

Guests have reported weight gain (a good thing) and improved sleep patterns and overall health. Now that they have their own space, four guests have returned to their art, painting and carving. They love being referred to as artists and two have sold some of their pieces. People in the community have shown a lot of interest in their work.

Staff find the personal growth and changes in the guests heartwarming and work hard to encourage the guests to look for new ways to take steps forward. These individuals are getting help with medication routine, accessing healthy food, mental health stability, and encouragement to continue making good choices. The Hope and Area Transition Society would like to continue to support these individuals with supportive housing.

Other comments from guests include:

"This housing has turned BC from the ugliest place in the world, to the most beautiful. I wish I had this sooner."

"I feel supported, so appreciative, so thankful and a hug"

"I wish I had this 10 years ago, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you."

Supportive housing changes lives and communities for the better.