The Comfort Hotel near St. John’s International Airport is being converted into a transitional housing facility, with 140 rooms dedicated to supporting homeless people.
Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation made the announcement Monday morning, calling it a partnership with N.L. Health Services and Clayton Hospitality, the hotel’s owner.
The deal is a three-year lease, according to a press release from Clayton Hospitality, with the hotel shutting down on Feb. 15 to begin the transition.
“That will give us time to hopefully catch up with housing,” Housing Minister Paul Pike told reporters at a separate announcement on Monday.
“Housing is something that we’re focusing and that we’re moving as fast as we can.”
The Comfort Hotel — which had long operated as the Airport Inn — is expected to begin accepting temporary residents in March. Pike said operating the hotel will cost about $6.9 million per year for three years.
The hotel will turn into temporary accommodations with wraparound support services and help people transition into permanent housing.
Pike said those services will include mental health and addictions supports and harm reduction services from on-site N.L. Health Services employees, and access to three meals a day through the restaurant inside the hotel.
“With this agreement, we hope to be part of a larger solution in this complex housing and health-care crisis,” said owner Judy Sparkes-Giannou in a written statement. “We are uniquely positioned to provide both a facility and a team of hospitality professionals who are accustomed to taking care of the million little things.”
The hotel has been used in recent years to host Ukrainian refugees and other newcomers in partnership with the provincial government.
Advocate applauds creative solutions
Homelessness has skyrocketed in Newfoundland and Labrador since the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving municipal and provincial governments struggling to keep up. The province has announced several medium- and long-term initiatives to increase the number of shelter beds and social housing units but has faced criticism for lacking immediate solutions.
This one could have people out of the cold before the end of the winter.
“While we recognize there is no one quick solution that will address the complex issues surrounding homelessness, this represents one more opportunity for individuals to have a safe, warm, transitional supportive living arrangement,” John Abbott, MHA for St. John’s East-Quidi Vidi and a former housing minister, said Monday.
Abbott — who is part of the province’s task force on homelessness — said they’ll continue working with people living in a tent encampment behind the Colonial Building in St. John’s to get them into safe accommodations as soon as possible.
Doug Pawson, executive director of End Homelessness St. John’s, is also part of the task force. He applauded using the hotel for transitional housing.
“That’s a really transformative opportunity, to really re-imagine how we deliver shelter services, transitional housing and supports,” he said.
“Integration of health services, mental health supports and addiction within the hotel itself is transformative. That’s a really great opportunity. A lot of folks struggle with their health, so having access to that in that site is going to be a game-changer.”
Pike said the shelter system is still being looked at, but said the hotel and private shelters in the city “may have to go hand in hand.”
He said the province is soon expecting a report outlining shelter standards — which he says is already completed — to be released in the near future.
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