Hotels offer free rooms to hospital workers, homeless

Summary

Hotels and holiday domains across Flanders are pitching in to help house people in need

Long day’s journey

Hotel owners in the centre of Mechelen are offering free rooms to hospital workers to allow them to get some sleep close by work. The same owners are offering rooms to people who find that working at home isn’t as efficient as they need it to be.

In keeping with measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus in Belgium, hotels are allowed to be open. But, considering travel restrictions and the closure of any and all tourist attractions, there are few customers at the moment.

The owners of 3 Paardekens Hotel also operate other hotels in Mechelen. “They are closed, so we are offering them to medical personnel,” 3 Paardekens manger Ivo Van Itterbeeck told VRT. “Those who are exhausted or have a long drive home ahead of them can stay overnight here for free. This way, we are playing our part in the effort.”

While they don’t yet have any takers, they know that the situation can change very quickly for local hospital staff. So they are already prepared with special precautions.

“The virus can survive for a maximum of 72 hours outside the body,” said Van Itterbeeck. “So we are offering them rooms where no one has been for at least three days. They are also, of course, completely disinfected. Our breakfast room is closed, but we will put a breakfast at their door.”

Work at home in a hotel

The hotel group is also contacting employers to let them know that they can send their employees who must work from home to one of their hotels for a small fee. “Many people have children or live in a small space with others and cannot work in peace,” explained Van Itterbeeck. “So we are offering employers the chance to rent rooms. Their employees can just work here or stay the night. They would be lodged in a separate hotel from the medical personnel.”

Over in Geraardsbergen, it was the City General Hospital itself that asked the province to use holiday bungalows that were empty. Many of the workers in the hospital in the Flemish Ardennes live some ways off and are currently working 12-hour shifts.

The holiday homes are in De Gavers recreational domain, which is currently closed. The homes normally sleep six to 10 people, but in this case, there cannot be more people staying there than there are bedrooms. Workers at the domain will clean and disinfect every room when there is a change of tenant, as well as the whole house once a week.

I’ve been working in the hotel business for 46 years, and I’ve never seen such a respectful clientele

- Tina Wijns of ’t Putje

In Bruges, meanwhile, one hotel has opened its rooms to the homeless. Hotel ’t Putje, right on the well-known square Het Zand, is working together with homeless shelter ’t Sas. “Some of these people are homeless because of debts, a divorce or a fire that has made their home unliveable,” hotel manager Tina Wijns told VRT.

Half of the hotel’s 37 rooms are currently being used by people without a permanent address. They spend the night, get some coffee in the morning and then must leave by 9.00, at which time they can head to ’t Sas for breakfast.

“We have a cleaning crew, but the rooms are left super tidy,” notes Wijns. “There are no clichés here when it comes to poverty, dirtiness or neglect. These people are so incredibly grateful. I’ve been working in the hotel business for 46 years, and I’ve never seen such a respectful clientele.”

Photo courtesy 3 Paardekens Hotel