'Where do I go, downtown?': Salt Spring Island residents fear being homeless after hospital purchases hotel property
The owner of an aging hotel on Salt Spring Island, B.C. has decided to sell the property and move on. The issue with the sale is that the property is currently home to 20 vulnerable people that would otherwise be homeless, and that has those residents fearing that they will end up on the streets.
"This is my home," said Debbie Brisson. "I made it my home."
The Seabreeze Inne has been her home for the last 14 months.
Brisson, who has terminal cancer, fears that once the hotel sells, she will be left without a home.
"Where do I go, downtown?" said Brisson.
Rich Bahry is another resident that fears the worst.
"I’ve lost one leg and the other one is going, I can just barely get around," he said.
"There’s no way I’m living on the streets. If I leave here I will be dead within a week."
BC Housing and Salt Spring Community Services has been renting rooms in the hotel since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hotel's agreement with BC Housing expires on Dec. 31, and the owner has decided to sell the property to the island's medical centre.
"BC Housing still hasn’t stepped up, so if nothing changes these people will be out of a place to live very quickly," said Rob Grant, executive director of Salt Spring Community Services.
Grant say the group can’t afford to buy the hotel on its own.
HOSPITAL IN NEED OF STAFF
Salt Spring Island has always had a rental supply issue, but now it's worse than ever with a near zero vacancy rate.
The island’s only hospital is trying to fill 31 vacant positions. That housing challenge is a major deterrent in attracting qualified staff, according to the health-care center.
So, the hospital made a bid for the hotel and the offer was accepted.
"We’re looking to purchase it and renovate it into permanent rental accommodations for hospital staff," said Roberta Martell, Lady Minto Hospital Foundation executive director.
The Seabreeze Inne on Salt Spring Island, B.C. is shown: Nov. 26, 2021: (CTV News)
Martell says the staffing shortage is at a breaking point and medical care on the island is beginning to suffer.
"We have been running with 31 people and positions short at the hospital, which isn’t sustainable," she said.
The foundation made an offer on the property after it was clear that BC Housing was not going to purchase it, says Martell.
'WE ARE CURRENTLY LOOKING'
With the hospital's offer accepted, BC Housing says it won't abandon current tenants. However, no firm plans have been laid out yet.
"BC Housing is actively working in the community to ensure none of the current tenants are displaced if and when ownership transitions to Lady Minto," said the organization in a statement Friday.
"We are currently looking at a number of options to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective long-term housing solution for these tenants," said BC Housing.
For resident at the Seabreeze, their stay is quickly coming to an end and nobody is quite sure where they will go.
"We don’t know what’s coming," said Glenn Peacock, a Seabreeze resident. "It’s hard."
"I don’t know what they’re going to do but they have to do something," added Brisson. "You can’t kick people out in the middle of winter."
The Lady Minto Hospital Foundation is hoping to take possession of the Seabreeze Inne in early February.