Hotels are the last line of defense in NL’s rising homelessness – and they’re getting costly

Bill Dormody is the manager of the Labrador Inn in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which has seen a huge increase in funding from the provincial government to accommodate the homeless.  (Rafsan Faruque Yugol/CBC - photo credit)

Bill Dormody is the manager of the Labrador Inn in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which has seen a huge increase in funding from the provincial government to accommodate the homeless. (Rafsan Faruque Yugol/CBC – photo credit)

Bill Dormody keeps a close eye on the Labrador Inn in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He has hired security guards, installed new cameras and says his staff have developed a sixth sense for spotting signs of trouble before they happen.

The provincial government will house about two dozen people seeking protection at the inn tonight, just like any other night. And Dormody’s goal is to make sure no one freezes to death outside. Not again.

The provincial government pledged support after CBC reported the death of Frederica Benuen, 28, who died in the cold outside the inn on January 29, 2022. However, Dormody said that nothing has changed.

“We’re doing our best, but we’re not tackling a lot of the issues,” he said on Tuesday. “There are addictions. There is homelessness. We are still doing nothing to address these issues.”

Dormody, who runs the inn, said staff often feel helpless as hospitality workers are forced to do the complex work of social workers, psychologists and police officers together.

The number of people sleeping in shelters has skyrocketed in Newfoundland and Labrador over the past year. Also the cost of their accommodation. And nowhere has that rise been felt more strongly than at the Labrador Inn.

Heidi Atter/CBC

Heidi Atter/CBC

What was once just a hotel for visitors to Happy Valley-Goose Bay has grown into one of the province’s largest de facto homeless shelters, housing about 24 people a night at government expense. During the first nine months of fiscal 2022-23, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing paid $1.3 million — nearly 20 percent of its total province-wide emergency housing budget — to the Labrador Inn.

The cost is high but reflects the complexity of the situation. Still, Dormody says it does little to get to the bottom of homelessness in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

“Just putting people in a dorm and giving them a place to sleep doesn’t talk about why they ended up there in the first place.”

The Labrador Inn may be a graphic example, but it’s far from the only hotel on the front lines of the province’s rising homelessness.

NL Housing hotel expenses

Shelter budgets have increased across the board, and hotel use has been the most significant increase. The amount increased from $120,912 in fiscal 2018-19 to $2,423,128 in just nine months of fiscal 2022-23 – an increase of 1,904 percent.

Latest figures show about 280 people slept in shelters over the past weekend, almost four times the number before the pandemic.

No instant fixes

Dutch housing minister John Abbott says the government has relied on non-profit accommodation providers to increase the number of available beds, but demand is still far greater than supply. When there isn’t enough space, they turn to the private sector, filling homes owned by private landlords or hotels contracted by the government.

“We’ve been relying on them more lately,” Abbott said. “But this has been really helpful for us to address this immediate need while we really plan to reduce shelter dependency in the medium to longer term.”

Curtis Hicks/CBC

Curtis Hicks/CBC

Abbott said the province is trying to combat the problem with a variety of new investments, such as B. More supportive housing units at Hope Center and Gathering Place in St. John’s, a new 30-bed emergency shelter to be built somewhere in the metro area, and a new “purpose-built facility” in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to include shelter beds and supportive housing units to provide.

In the meantime, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing will continue to rely on the private sector to meet overwhelming needs.

At the Labrador Inn, Bill Dormody looks forward to the day when more help is available for the customers he sees cycling around the hotel. He hopes the new facility will be the solution to Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s housing problems, but knows it will be at least two more years before it opens. He’s also angered by public opposition to the project, which he considers a “not in my backyard” attitude.

The Labrador Inn was never intended as a homeless shelter. They are in talks with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing for a two-year extension, but after that the owners want to convert it into an assisted living facility.

Dormody said that means it won’t be there to back it up if the new condominium doesn’t move forward or isn’t adequate.

“At some point it won’t be there anymore. What happens then?”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button