To help provide temporary shelter spaces, Chatham-Kent council is moving ahead with a one-year contract for 32 rooms at the Travelodge hotel.
The municipality will enter into the sole-source agreement with Sunray Group for the spaces from June 1 of this year to May 31, 2022, with the potential to extend for up to 12 additional months.
According to a staff report presented on April 26, the initial move to Travelodge was made during the state of emergency as a short-term solution, so the procurement process was not in place.
The department recommended entering into a longer term and lower cost agreement until another plan is secured.
Polly Smith, director of employment and social services, told council the contract will also provide more stability in the meantime.
“There is turnover and people are getting housed through this program,” she said. “We’re grateful to the Sunray Group for working with us.”
The report stated Chatham-Kent, similar to many other smaller rural communities, has seen homelessness numbers increase significantly during the pandemic.
“Early estimates show that owning a building versus renting the current average number of rooms could save 80 to 90 per cent in space-related operational costs, but would require capital investment,” the report stated.
“Until a longer term solution is in place, renting these rooms, operating a shelter out of another location like John D. Bradley Convention Centre, or turning up to 60 people out into the streets are the only options.”
Sole source approval was requested as there are no other Chatham hotels with enough rooms to accommodate the average need and willing to lease to the employment and social services department for the Chatham-Kent Emergency and Rapid Re-Housing Program.
Most of the rooms have double occupancy and allow for physical distancing. There are also two isolation rooms for individuals who have spent time out of Chatham-Kent or who are awaiting COVID-19 tests.
The municipality will continue to rent a small number of rooms from other hotels and motels periodically.
“Moving to another community in Chatham-Kent is not a practical solution at this time, as the majority of services that stayers require are located within Chatham. Having multiple locations would require additional staffing and travel which is not cost effective,” the report added.
The agreement with the Sunray Group is for $79 per night per room for 32 rooms if a 12-month contract is signed. Employment and Social Services is currently paying $99 per night per room for 31 rooms.
This year, the department received roughly half of the social services relief funding from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that was provided in 2020.
As for researching emergency housing options, staff members continue to work with colleagues in housing services, planning and building development, as well as realtors, architectural firms and other partners.
The aim is to have a cost-effective and housing-focused plan by this summer.
“We’re collecting information on different properties and getting pricing,” Smith said. “We’re also talking to some partners and looking at different options.”
Coun. Michael Bondy asked if the municipality was abandoning its idea of not needing a bricks-and-mortar solution for emergency housing, to which Smith said they were considering all possibilities.
“We haven’t abandoned really the model at all. We’ve just added a bricks-and-mortar building into it,” Smith said. “Our model is still housing first. A huge amount of our effort and work is spent preventing (homelessness).
“But with the pandemic, things have changed a bit and we had to give people a place to isolate and be safe. We have really seen a lot of need in the community.”
Coun. Doug Sulman supported the recommendation, but stressed he doesn’t want the municipality moving away from its housing-first strategy.
“I’ve been very supportive of our policy,” he said. “This is a big change in our philosophy.”
Smith said no venture would be undertaken without council approval, noting there is also a difference between a shelter and emergency housing.