With tourism season around the corner, Gander’s homeless population will soon have to find a new place to live.
The province uses the town’s hotels for emergency shelter situations over the winter. But with an expected influx of visitors in the area over the next few months, hotels are taking back their rooms.
Kim Beers, chair of the Gander Housing and Homeless Hub, said people who don’t have homes of their own have been staying in hotels for years. The practice isn’t sustainable, she said, but there’s nowhere else for them to go.
“We don’t have any kind of emergency shelter at the moment here in Gander,” Beers said.
“There’s just a lack of rental properties, there’s a lack of affordable housing because we’ve grown in our community. It’s a good problem to have because we have more people coming, but we just don’t have the space, the capacity or the affordability for some people to be able to stay.”
About 40 people in the Gander area have been using hotels for emergency shelters.
Beers said it’s a mix of men, women and families with children — some with complex needs that hotel staff aren’t qualified to help with.
Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister John Abbott says the provincial government is looking at other housing alternatives.
“We’ve interviewed every single individual to make sure we know exactly what their housing is and would be for the foreseeable future,” said Abbott, the minister responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Commission. About half of the people using hotels for shelter have either been placed in or found shelter, he said.
“We’re now working with each of the individuals to find suitable arrangements, whether in and around Gander or in the broader region, to make sure that they can stay as close to home as possible.”
The eviction comes on the cusp of tourism season, but Abbott said government officials are talking to hotel owners to try to retain at least a few rooms and his department is also speaking with other community organizations to see if there’s anything else available.
He said he thought suitable arrangements would be found. Beers said some people have already been relocated out of town.
A permanent fix
The long-term goal is to establish a permanent emergency shelter in Gander.
The town recently acquired the former Pentecostal church, which sits mostly vacant on Elizabeth Drive since the congregation moved to a newly built church in 2018.
Beers said that building would be the perfect location for a short-term housing solution and his group is trying to make it happen.
“It’s an ideal place in many ways. It was occupied by a very small group that wasn’t utilizing the whole building recently so there’s a lot of things that need to be updated,” he said.
“Ideally, in the long term, it’s going to be a fantastic place.… We’re looking at not only just an emergency place but possibly some bed sitters and possibly even having a section being affordable apartment units.”
Beers said the idea had been shared with Abbott and the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.
She hopes all sides can work together to make the plan come to fruition.
Abbott said his department is exploring the idea, and called it a “real possibility.”
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