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Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Albertans in financial distress are being housed in substandard conditions at discount motels on the province’s dime with the government unaware of the squalor, a year-long police investigation revealed.
Edmonton Police began the investigation, dubbed Project Watch, when they noticed higher crime rates around a cluster of west-end motels. But as it unfolded, they found people on social assistance occupying rooms filled with mice, bedbugs, asbestos and mould.
As a result, police are investigating motels across the city and bringing in other agencies for help.
Det. Kevin Fald, one of two officers assigned to Project Watch, said he was stunned at the state of rooms covered on the government tab.
Fald added that Alberta Works, which oversees rooms for people in financial distress, appeared ignorant to the reality of the situation – the only interactions with clients were via phone.
“These places were a mess. What we found was there were bedbugs, cockroaches, mould, asbestos,” he said.
According data provided by Human Services in late 2014, the province placed 1,040 people in motel rooms on an emergency basis during the 2011-2012 fiscal year; in 2013-2014, that number jumped to 2,276.
The cost of these lodgings has risen to nearly $4 million annually.
Kathy Telfer, a spokesperson for Human Services, was unable to provide current costs and admitted the organization didn’t know about the state of the rooms.
“It was new information to us. We know that there is a challenge in finding temporary accommodations for families who are finding themselves in these situations and needing supports.”
Supt. Brad Doucette, who first pushed Fald to look into spiking crime rates around motels, said officers are now working with health personnel, city bylaw officials, occupational health and safety and Alberta Works to improve living conditions for the families living in these properties.
“We’re getting all of those folks to the table now that they know the issue is as big as it is.”
Doucette said he would like to see the government adopt a minimum set of standards for motel and hotel operators, which currently don’t exist.
“There is no rule that says they have to change the sheets between customers,” he said.
He said many of these places also had advertisements that don’t bear any resemblance to the reality of what the rooms are like.
“There are pictures on Trip Advisor of rooms that do not exist in that hotel,” he said.
Det. Kevin Fald said with the city having such a low vacancy rate there will continue to be a real challenge housing vulnerable people, which is why they need to work to improve these facilities.
“We’re really lacking in housing and in family friendly shelters, so we have to use the hotels and motels, so it’s in our best interest to keep them safe.”