British Columbia

Closed Surrey rec centre to provide self-isolation space for homeless people

The Surrey Urban Mission Society says the old centre will help those with nowhere else to go if they test positive for COVID-19 or show symptoms.

Rec centre will provide space for up to 110 people who test positive or show symptoms of COVID-19

In a statement, the City of Surrey, the Fraser Health Authority and BC Housing said the North Surrey Recreation Centre will have 110 spaces for people living with homelessness spread out over the facility's two ice rinks. (City of Surrey)

A closed-down Surrey rec centre will be used as emergency space for up to 110 homeless people needing to self-isolate during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, the city, Fraser Health Authority and BC Housing said the North Surrey Recreation Centre will help people living on the streets or in shelters and people coming out of acute care with nowhere else to go by giving them a safe place to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19 or show symptoms.

The spaces will be referral-only and prioritize people "most at risk with the highest needs," the statement said. Fraser Health will manage the referrals.

The rec centre was shut down in December 2019 and replaced by the North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex.

Homeless activists said on April 2 that they had barricaded themselves inside the old rec centre and were calling for safer places for them to live during the pandemic. The demonstration ended peacefully with no arrests. (Mike Zimmer/CBC News)

Last week, the rec centre was the scene of a protest when about 50 people demanded safer places for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The demonstrators said conditions in shelters, SROs, and modular housing are dangerous because people are in smaller spaces where it's harder to self-isolate.

'It's definitely a sign of greater need'

The Surrey Urban Mission Society will operate the centre with staff present 24 hours a day, according to the statement. Fraser Health will provide medical guidance.

The society runs a homeless shelter in the city, but executive director Mike Musgrove is concerned that a COVID-19 outbreak could begin in a shelter environment.

"This is a time that really shows why the need for people to have their own space, their own key, their own place to be is so important," Musgrove said.

"We're responding to this pandemic ... but it's definitely a sign of greater need for appropriate housing for people who are struggling finding homes."

Musgrove said the old rec centre could begin accepting referrals as early as Wednesday morning.

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