Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre will reopen in March as a temporary housing site with wrap-around supports for up to 45 people without homes.
Attorney General David Eby announced the move Wednesday as part of an ongoing effort by the city and province to move everyone indoors by March 31 and end around-the-clock camping in public parks.
PHS Community Services Society will run the temporary shelter as it did from May to the end of September last year.
People living outdoors will be given priority access to beds along with meals, washrooms, health care services, addictions treatment and harm-reduction supports.
The lease runs from Feb. 1 to May 30, with options to extend it beyond the deadline.
“The arena will play a key role in our plan to identify as many spaces as there are people currently in the encampments in Victoria,” Eby said in an interview.
“A number of folks will be housed and supported at the arena as a transitional space. There’s a number of more permanent spaces coming online over the next year, and the arena will help us transition people from the encampments to permanent housing.”
No financial details were released and Eby said “the costs are still an open question for that site and for the entire encampment response.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps praised Eby’s leadership and hailed the reopening of the arena as an important first step in moving about 200 people indoors over the next two months. City council has committed to ending camping in parks provided people have been offered a bed inside.
“My understanding is that the province has a couple of other things that they’re working on,” she said in an interview. “Minister Eby has said repeatedly: ‘We’re going to meet that deadline and we’re not going to leave anyone behind.’ And I believe him.”
The government said people living in the camps — particularly those vulnerable to COVID-19 — will get priority access to shelter spaces in the arena, including Indigenous people, people over the age of 55 and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Eby said the one-month delay in opening the shelter will allow time to set up the space and hire staff to run it.
“Part of the challenge in getting this up and running is less about cost and more about staffing — making sure that there’s supports for people in the facility so we don’t move people from one problem into another problem — an understaffed or inappropriately staffed facility.”
When the arena opened as a shelter last May, it was thought to be first time that an emergency housing site featured pop-up rooms where each person was given a bed, a cabinet and a couple of dividers to provide a measure of privacy and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The arena is owned by the City of Victoria but operated and managed by the GSL Group of Vancouver, formerly RG Properties.
Graham Lee, president and chief executive officer, was not immediately available for an interview Wednesday, but he said in a statement that GSL appreciated getting a second opportunity to serve the capital region by providing the arena as an emergency response centre.“We found it imperative, as a member of this community, to be a part of the solution by working with B.C. Housing to make our facility available to vulnerable individuals,” he said.
Eby said the province continues to look at all options for moving people indoors, including purchasing or leasing another hotel or other building that could be used as a temporary shelter.