In the spring of 2020, with the pandemic impacting occupancy levels at the Radisson Kitchener, its General Manager, Nancy Keizer was presented with an opportunity to positively impact her community. But, sometimes, care can come with a cost…
For roughly seven months, House of Friendship’s Shelter program operated out of the Radisson Kitchener, which provided the space needed to safely house and provide meals for, more than 100 individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this more comprehensive approach to Shelter was a vision underway before COVID-19 began, the pandemic made it an instant necessity to keep those who are homeless, and the entire community, safe.
In this Palm Holdings webinar Nancy sat down with Dave, Micrometrics’ marketing lead, to share her experience both managing the intricacies of this unique program, while simultaneously responding to the challenges of the pandemic, and shed light on the lessons learned both in terms of the positive benefits her property has experienced by participating and also when dealing with both sides of the impact a community can experience.
Every year, Radisson Hotel Group Americas recognizes its top-performing hotels and employees from each of its brands. During the ceremony, an award for community engagement was presented for the tireless efforts of hotel associates to help the community through the pandemic, led by GM, Nancy Keizer. The Radisson Hotel Kitchener was the first to step up in Ontario during a pandemic and, thanks to their efforts, the city was able to keep Covid–19 numbers low and hospital visits reduced! So the question is – how did this all come to be?
After getting a flood of calls of cancellations when the pandemic first began, Radisson Kitchener’s sales director decided to rally by sending emails out to the community to see if they could help in any way, especially in the healthcare sector in the region. The House of Friendship decided to ask for the help they needed. Nancy explained, “they reached out to us and then we took it back to our leaders and said ‘this is the situation we have, what do you think, how do we move forward.’ They gave us the go-ahead and within 24 hours our hotel was full of men.” Nancy and her team barely had any time to think through the situation so the first week was full of learning opportunities on how the property and the House of Friendship would work together to best serve the men and keep the property presentable and safe.
There were rules put in place so that the program could operate successfully without interrupting or interfering with the hotel operations, especially with a bare-bones staff. Nancy, or Mama Radisson as the men began to call her, expressly noted that the property was “her house, her rules” and the men respected that. The men entered through a side entrance, were checked in with the House of Friendship staff, were not given any keys, had their bags checked upon arrival, were escorted by the organization’s staff to their specific floors, and were not allowed to visit other rooms. Some issues came up when the men were outside smoking but Nancy worked with the neighbouring businesses and restaurants to ensure that everyone was being respectful and courteous.
The community acted in a divided manner. Some welcomed the initiative and some had negative sentiments towards the program…
The TripAdvisor review above is suspected to have been written by a member of the community since it didn’t come from anyone who stayed or visited the hotel. Some members of the community didn’t like that the Radisson Kitchener was bringing homeless men into the neighbourhood and they tried to say that there would be an increase in COVID-19 cases, an increase in violence in the neighbourhood, and they even tried to claim that their property values would decrease because of it. Some of the media in the region also had less than positive things to say about the bold initiative.
However, Nancy and her team stuck to their plan and to Palm Holdings values of being united, bold, and authentic. Because of that, they were able to provide a safe and warm place to stay 24/7 with on onsite healthcare to address the physical, addiction, and mental health needs of these new guests as well as the opportunity to provide the tools and resources they needed to find and maintain permanent housing.
There were other positive benefits, as well:
- No positive COVID-19 cases within the ShelterCare program;
- Overdose rates were down by over 50% despite increasing the number of individuals served from 51 to more than 100;
- 75% reduction in Emergency Medical Service visits; and
- More than 56 men were housed over six months, with none returning to Shelter.
Nancy’s experience with the men from the shelter ended up being very positive. She and her team learned everyone’s name, as if they were any other guest on the property, and treated them kindly and with respect. They organized tasks for some of the men to do around the property like weeding gardens, removing graffiti off the garage walls, and sweeping up cigarette butts. Nancy explained that “they were happy to have responsibilities and some jobs and to keep their mind active, as opposed to being bored. Sometimes I would arrange to play frisbee with some of them. They were the best times that we had out in the back when they were active instead of having a little bit too much idle time. So we kept them active but they also needed to work with the organization.” Nancy went on to give some advice for any other properties that may be thinking of doing something similar. “Make sure that the organization and the hotel have similar goals and that they work together. At the end of the day, this is my house and you live by the rules in my house so there has to be some of that too in order to manage it. [We would look in their] backpacks when they come through the doors because we wanted to make sure that they weren’t taking anything in that you don’t want them to have in their room that could cause damage or harm to anybody else in the building.”
Although Nancy’s experience with the House of Friendship was a positive one she is looking forward to getting her property running at levels last seen in 2019 now that the program is done. Dave and Nancy go into even more detail in the webinar, feel free to listen to the whole conversation HERE.
As a reminder, Micrometrics believes that businesses should create more meaningful connections with the people they serve by enhancing face-to-face interactions and creating connections with guests at scale. Our hospitality clients leverage powerful messaging automations to improve customer experience and operational efficiency at their properties. You can learn more about us at https://www.micrometrics.com/hospitality/
If you would like to donate to the House of Friendship please click here.