a person sitting on the side of a building: Image of person lying outside Hope Mission shelter.

© Chris Chacon/Global News
Image of person lying outside Hope Mission shelter.

The desperate need to house Edmonton’s homeless is catching the attention of an industry struggling to keep their rooms occupied.

“Our hotels pre-pandemic probably would have enjoyed occupancy around 70 per cent. Now we’re quite excited when a hotel is around 20 per cent,” said Karen Chalmers, executive director of Edmonton Destination Marketing Hotels.

This past Monday, the federal government announced it’s committing $1 billion to help combat the issue of homelessness among Canadian municipalities.

“Very pleased to see some bold initial moves from the federal government answering the mayors from across the country in calling for immediate investment of more affordable housing,” Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said.

Read more: Advocates say more plans needed for homeless camps as Edmonton sees 1st COVID-19 outbreak at shelter

But concerned that Edmonton’s cut may not be sufficient, one day after the announcement, Mayor Iveson said he sent a letter to Ottawa asking for nearly $387 million of that money.

“These funds will allow the city to rapidly acquire potentially some hotels or apartment buildings in the next weeks and months,” Iveson said.

Edmonton Destination Marketing Hotels represents upwards of 60 hotels and says some Edmonton-area hotels are interested and could use some visitors.

“If there’s an opportunity to align these two needs where it’s getting business into a hotel and it’s also securing the needs of the most vulnerable in Edmonton, it seems like the perfect opportunity for both to align,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers says hotels in operation are adaptable and can be easily retrofitted

“It is called the hospitality industry for a reason, our hotels, any hotel, its success is on welcoming and serving the needs of its client base and if that client base changes it doesn’t mean the ability to adapt to that and support that client goes away,” Chalmers said.

The city says staff is working to determine vacant buildings, including hotels. It’s also considering innovative rapid construction methods for new builds all in the effort to house people without a place to stay before winter sets in.

Read more: Winterization efforts underway at Edmonton’s Camp Pekiwewin

The city says the locations it’s eyeing for housing will be presented to council in October.

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