An additional 50 shelter beds will soon be available at Memorial Arena, arranged in pods on the arena floor.
The City of Kamloops set aside the space to meet demand as shelters sought to spread out their populations in order to allow for safe operation with pandemic-related physical-distancing measures in place.
“We can’t take as many people in the shelters, so we’ve had to look for alternate spaces,” said Nanette Drobot, acting regional manager for BC Housing.
The spreading out of the homeless is just one of a number of ways shelters have had to adapt during the pandemic.
“We’ve had to change how beds are placed, for example, to comply with physical-distancing requirements, as well as how meals are prepared, our dining room space, policies around guests,” she said.
In addition to the new space at Memorial Arena, there are 30 beds available at 185 Royal Ave. in North Kamloops, formerly known as The Branch, which operated as a temporary winter shelter in the past.
“Once that gets full, we’ll migrate over to Memorial Arena,” Drobot said.
Drobot said city hotels are also still being used, especially for those who need to self-isolate or are awaiting test results.
At Memorial, a number of services will be available, including 24/7 staff and security, meals, laundry, showers and washrooms and health services.
The Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association will operate the site. Its operations manager, Alfred Achoba, said the agency will also have access to COVID-19 testing through Interior Health.
He said screening measures will be in place, as it is at its other shelter operations in Kamloops.
The process began after the city set aside the Memorial Arena and Royal Avenue sites for shelter space near the end of April. From then, Achoba and his staff conducted neighbourhood walk-throughs at residences and businesses, leaving contact information along the way to ensure neighbours could provide feedback if need be.
“Many people were receptive to it because they’ve identified there’s a need to bring some of these folks indoors, especially during the pandemic,” he said. “I think it’s a great site to have.”
The shelter has a no-guests policy, but when asked if residents could simply meet in larger groups right outside the facility, Achoba said that was a possibility.
“But we also have staff 24/7 who will work to manage some of that behaviour or those trends,” he said, also noting there are peer programs within the group that can address any issues that might arise.
The shelter is expected to remain open at least until the end of June, with extensions possible, Achoba said.