Travelodge continues to provide housing and hope for homeless in Chatham-Kent

Travelodge Hotel on Bloomfield Road

Chatham-Kent is extending its program to provide temporary housing at a local hotel for people experiencing homelessness.

On Monday night, council approved a staff recommendation that the Employment and Social Services Department enter into a 12-month agreement for 32 rooms at the Travelodge Hotel in Chatham. The agreement will be with hospitality company Sunray Group.

In April 2020, the municipality opened up an emergency isolation shelter at the John D. Bradley Centre in Chatham to provide a place for individuals experiencing homelessness to safely isolate during the pandemic.

After several months, the individuals were relocated to the Travelodge Hotel, located on Bloomfield Road near Richmond Street. During this time, the Employment and Social Services Division also shifted from an emergency shelter model to a housing-focused model called the Chatham-Kent Emergency and Rapid Re-Housing Program that operates primarily out of the hotel.

Director of Social Services Polly Smith said the team will first work with an individual who is facing homelessness and speak with them about what options they have for housing.

If they do in fact need emergency housing, the Social Service Department completes a screening process and then offers a room at the Travelodge if one is available.

According to Smith, it’s not just about providing people with a free bed to stay in. Through the rapid rehousing program, staff members remain on-site and work closely with individuals throughout the day to finding permanent housing.

“During their stay, there is a huge focus for all the staff on helping the individuals prepare for and find their own long-term housing,” she explained. “Every week we have a number of people that are housed in long-term accommodation. They stay with us for a short time then they move on somewhere else.”

Smith said some individuals with higher needs might have a much longer stay at the hotel and staff will also work on getting them to any support services they may need.

A light breakfast for the tenants is included in the price that the municipality pays for the hotel rooms. A light evening meal is also brought in, which the municipality uses different local vendors for.

In order to stay in a room, individuals must agree to work with rapid re-housing staff who are trying to help them find long-term accommodations.

“They are working with them on a full range of solutions to help them get housed,” said Smith. “If they are not connecting with us, if they are disappearing a lot, their room is no longer available to them until they’re ready to start working with us again.”

According to Smith, keeping staff on-site at the hotel not only allows them to work closely to support individuals but also helps to ensure the rooms are kept in good condition and to avoid any possible conflicts between hotel guests.

Smith said there are rules in place that individuals have to follow to ensure a quiet environment. The Social Services Department also continuously works with hotel staff to address any concerns that there might be.

“It’s not [their] home, it’s not a party place. People are not allowed to use substances on site,” Smith explained. “Does that mean people sneak things in and things happen? Yes, and those things are addressed. I think we need to remember substance use is sometimes the result of addiction, sometimes from early trauma and pain that people are going through. ”

Since moving homeless individuals to the Travelodge in September 2020, the social service department has provided 263 people with a total of 198 nights of accommodation. The team has also been able to find housing for 57 people who were previously homeless by using the rapid re-housing program.

According to Smith, this includes a number of individuals who had been chronically homeless, largely due to mental health or substance abuse issues.

“It’s a very hard market to find people housing in,” she said. “That’s why I think a lot of the public doesn’t think we’re successful but I can assure you we are. Every week, every month we have a number of people helped.”

Smith said a majority of people that find housing through the municipality’s program stay housed for the long term. However, she said the main issue is there are not enough services or housing currently available to stay ahead of the homelessness crisis.

The contract between the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and Sunray Group will run from June 1, 2021, until May 31, 2022, with the potential of an extension for 12 additional months.

Chatham-Kent also recently made it easier for people who are facing homelessness to get access to help.

As of Monday, the municipality’s homeless response line will be answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Anyone seeking immediate emergency housing assistance can call the phone line at 519-354-6628. Meanwhile, anyone who needs help with homeless prevention services can contact Employment and Social Services at 519-351-1228.

Smith said the plan is to continue with the re-housing model but to find more cost-sustainable options. The Social Services Department also continues to work on opportunities for supportive and affordable housing projects.

“We’re actively looking at purchasing our own building, looking at renovations, and what would be the most cost-effective way to offer these services of emergency housing,” she said. “There’s simply just not enough housing to get ahead of this yet.”

The municipality is currently paying $99 per night per room for 31 rooms. With the contract, costs will lower to $79 per night per room for 32 rooms, resulting in a savings of $187,000 for the year.

The rental costs are 100 per cent provincially funded.