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Coronavirus: Makeshift homeless shelter to open at Victoria hockey arena

Pods are set up on the rink at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C.
Pods are set up on the rink at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C. BC Government Handout

A new 45-bed emergency response centre is opening on the playing surface at Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

The city’s main venue for hockey games, concerts and other special events is set to become B.C.’s first makeshift homeless shelter under the COVID-19 pandemic to feature pop-up pods that look a bit like cubicles to allow users a measure of privacy.

Province unveils plan to shelter tent city residents in Vancouver and Victoria
Province unveils plan to shelter tent city residents in Vancouver and Victoria

Campers along Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park are set to move in the coming days, as part of the province’s plan to move homeless people in Victoria and Vancouver into safer, temporary accommodation and help slow the spread of the virus.

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“This is a challenging time for everyone, especially for people experiencing homelessness,” Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson said.

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“In Victoria, we have seen encampments at Topaz Park and the Pandora corridor grow into unsafe, dense encampments that are compounding existing health, well-being and safety challenges.”

READ MORE: Spiked fences go up at Oppenheimer Park amid plan to house homeless campers

The space will accommodate couples and groups of people who want to stay together, where possible, and provide meals, washrooms, health-care, storage, addictions treatment and harm reduction.

According to BC Housing, 90 people in Victoria had moved into other accommodation, and 147 from Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, as of Sunday afternoon.

The goal is to move out all residents of the controversial tent city on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by the end of the weekend, while staff continue to make arrangements for campers in Victoria.

B.C. government installs spiked fences around Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park
B.C. government installs spiked fences around Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park

GSL Group, which runs the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, also operates Prospera Place in Kelowna and three Planet Ice locations in Metro Vancouver.

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The province has said it plans to expand the use of pop-up pods, which can be set up quickly, to other emergency response centres.