Noting that the facility offers “a temporary and secure place with wraparound support services,” the BC government announced it is opening a 45-bed emergency response centre at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria.
The 7,000-seat hockey arena is the home of the WHL’s Victoria Royals, and was one of the host venues during the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships.
The province said the facility will be the first site in BC to feature pop-up pods that provide privacy for people staying there and will be used to house people currently living in encampments on the Pandora Avenue corridor and Topaz Park in Victoria.
“This is a challenging time for everyone, especially for people experiencing homelessness,” said BC’s Minister of Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson. “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.”
As such, the temporary site is designed to “help people stay safe during this time.”
The facility is scheduled to open “in the coming days, once all staff are in place,” the government said.
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GSL Group, the developer and operator of the facility, is extending the use of the arena to BC Housing to provide shelter to vulnerable people in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From the beginning of the crisis, we’ve said we could make our arenas throughout B.C. available for medical purposes, if needed,” said Graham Lee, president and CEO of GSL Group. “We are pleased to support the Province’s effort to provide an emergency response centre and the ongoing efforts from the Province and the City of Victoria to support those in need.”
BC Housing is partnering with PHS Community Services Society to operate the emergency response centre, which will receive people referred by Island Health and BC Housing. The centre will accommodate couples and groups of people who wish to stay together, where possible.
In addition to a space of their own, people will have access to services such as meals, washroom facilities, health-care services, addictions treatment and harm reduction, storage for personal belongings and other supports.
“We are grateful to GSL for working with BC Housing and the Province to make this facility available to help those in Victoria in need of temporary sheltering, meals or specialized health services,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “Moving into the arena in the short term is a step closer for people to have safe, secure long-term housing.”
BC Housing said it has also partnered with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness to open 12 temporary shelter spaces at a different location to provide culturally supportive services to Indigenous peoples who are experiencing homelessness in the community.