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Pacific Coliseum shelter? Why Vancouver’s arenas likely won’t house homeless during COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Celebrating 50 years of history at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum'
Celebrating 50 years of history at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum
Squire Barnes takes a look at the venerable Pacific Coliseum, which turns 50 this year – Jan 24, 2018

The City of Victoria’s hockey arena is set to house the homeless again starting next month so what are the chances we could we see arenas in Metro Vancouver also serving as emergency shelters during the COVID-19 crisis?

B.C.’s housing minister and attorney general says it’s unlikely – but he’s not ruling it out.

Early in the pandemic, David Eby confirmed the Pacific Coliseum was considered as space to temporarily house the most vulnerable – but BC Housing determined it wouldn’t be a good fit.

“It was their feeling that it was too far from essential services and critical infrastructure to support people and staying inside,” Eby told Global News.

Read more: For 50 years, the Pacific Coliseum hosted some of Vancouver’s biggest events and it’s not done

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Eby said the rink on Renfrew, which is the largest building in the PNE’s Hastings Park complex, is currently not on the list of venues that could potentially operate as emergency shelters.

“We are keeping an open mind in terms of sites because this is quite obviously an emergency and a crisis to get people inside,” Eby said.

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PNE spokesperson Laura Ballance said the Coliseum is rented until the fall so immediately using it as a temporary housing site “wouldn’t be possible”.

Click to play video: 'Calls for action on homeless camp after deadly home invasion suspect linked to Strathcona Park'
Calls for action on homeless camp after deadly home invasion suspect linked to Strathcona Park

What about Rogers Arena or BC Place?

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While both venues are in downtown Vancouver and closer to service providers, Eby said one of the risks of using arena space is the potential for sporting events to come back as vaccines become more widely available and vaccinations expand.

Read more: Coronavirus: Makeshift homeless shelter to open at Victoria hockey arena

“It was one of the big challenges we faced with Victoria, what is the WHL going to do? Eby said.

Up to 45 people will be moving into pods at Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial arena in March after the space was first used as an emergency response centre from May to September 2020.

This time the lease expires in May – although it can be extended.

“We’re really looking for sites that won’t face that disruption in the event that life starts to return to normal,” Eby added.

Read more: ‘Not a safe situation’: Staff working overtime to end Strathcona Park camp, Eby says

He said the province and its partners are on track to decamp Vancouver’s largest homeless encampment at Strathcona Park by the end of April, with enough spaces to get everybody housed.

BC Housing, Eby said, will need cooperation from the Vancouver Park Board “to seek any necessary injunctions once those spaces are available.”

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