More than 100 jobs uncertain after province purchases Victoria hotel for homeless
VICTORIA -- Concerns have erupted after more than 100 employees of Victoria’s Comfort Inn hotel found out Friday that the B.C. government purchased the hotel to house homeless people amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, the provincial government announced that it had purchased the Comfort Inn at 3020 Blanshard St. to provide roughly 65 temporary accommodations for unsheltered people.
The announcement came as a surprise to employees of the Comfort Inn, as well as to staff at Redd’s Roadhouse Pub and an adjoining liquor store that are part of the hotel property.
Ryan Smith, restaurant manager for the establishment, says he learned about the purchase from a friend Friday morning.
“I woke up to a text message from a friend who said that I should check the Times Colonist’s front page and lo and behold, the place that I’ve been working at for the past three and a half years was sold with no word to the staff or warning or heads up or anything.” he said. “Just gone.”
Smith estimates that about 106 employees at the pub and hotel have been affected by the sale, which came as a complete surprise.
“I talked to [the owner] via text message not long ago, and by a phone a little before that, and she was saying that things were fine and that she wanted me back,” he said.
“They had no plans to reopen yet, but they did plan on reopening. And this is how I woke up today.”
Smith says that he understands the appeal of the sale, but is upset that no staff members were given a heads up before the provincial government made its announcement.
“If you showed up at my house with $18.5 million I’m going to reconsider a lot of things,” said Smith. “But I wouldn’t consider those things without letting my staff know that I was probably going to take that offer. It seems unhuman.”
The restaurant manager says that he and other staff have tried to contact the pub’s owners, but have not heard back as of Friday afternoon.
Clayton Rourke, a kitchen supervisor for the pub, echoed Smith’s concerns.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. Rourke says that he tried to contact Our Place, who is helping to run the new homeless facility, who in turn referred him to BC Housing, the organization that purchased the property.
He says he’s now waiting on BC Housing to return his call, to see if he and other employees still have jobs to return to once the pandemic is over.
“I’ve worked there for just under a year myself, but I know a lot of the guys who worked there for 20 plus years who found out over social media,” said Rourke.
“You’d think after working for 20 years at a business very hard you’d earn that respect.”
Smith said several staff members have worked there for more than 10 years.
Rourke said that the more than 100 employees of the hotel and pub have been in contact with the B.C. Labour Board since the announcement was made.
“One hundred and two employees is a group layoff so 12 weeks severance for each person plus personal severance,” he said.
“I just hope that the rest of my staff don’t get screwed, especially the ones with kids.”
On Friday afternoon, the B.C. government told CTV News that it would be hiring back all former employees of the Comfort Inn for the short-term.
BC Housing says that all staff will be rehired as the province assess what operational and staffing needs are required for the coming months.
The organization says that it is in the process of reaching out to every employee of the hotel.
On Friday morning, the B.C. government announced that homeless campers living at Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue would be moved into the hotel in the coming days.
Campers will be referred to the site by Island Health and BC Housing over the weekend.
In the long term, the hotel may be converted to an affordable housing site, after a period of engagement with the community.
Meanwhile, the province says that BC Housing will be forming a community advisory committee to listen to feedback and concerns from the surrounding community.
The committee will be made up of representatives from the Hillside-Quadra and Burnside-Gorge community, as well as residents of the neighbourhood.
“It just seems very strange that in an effort to house people they’re risking almost more people – like they said 60 suites, but now there’s 106 families [whose jobs] are now 'poof,'” said Smith.
“It’s crazy. There just aren’t words for it.”