Ottawa

City opens arena to give homeless men some space

A hockey arena in Ottawa's south end has been converted into a shelter for homeless single men so they can safely keep their distance from each other during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jim Durrell complex on Walkley Road has room for up to 140

Jim Watson, mayor of Ottawa, and Shelley VanBuskirk, the city’s director of housing services, say converting the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre into a temporary shelter for homeless men will free up space in shelters and make physical distancing easier. 0:42

A hockey arena in Ottawa's south end has been converted into a shelter for homeless single men so they can safely keep their distance from others during the pandemic.

Many of the city's downtown shelters are already at capacity, making it difficult for clients to observe safe physical distancing practices, according to city officials.

To rectify that, the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre on Walkley Road has now been converted into a shelter with enough beds for up to 140 male clients over the age of 18.

"There's tremendous pressure on all of us to respect physical distancing, and that unfortunately is not always available or possible in the shelter system that is at capacity most nights. So this is going to take some pressure off the shelters downtown," Mayor Jim Watson said outside the arena Wednesday. 

"We recognize that there are literally hundreds of people, if not thousands of people ... who don't have a home, who don't have a place to go and self isolate," Watson said.

Shelley VanBuskirk, Ottawa's director of housing services, stands inside the Jim Durrell Arena, which has been converted to accommodate up to 140 single men. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

City, province to cover cost

The men will be served three meals a day, and will be allowed to come and go from the facility during the day. There will also be computers with internet access.

Starting Saturday, the city will provide transportation from downtown shelters to the arena.

"These are individuals who are not as high-needs as some of the other people in the shelter system, so they're a little more independent, but they need a roof over their heads," Watson said.

He said funding for the converted arena will be provided by the City of Ottawa and the province. 

Computers with internet access have been set up inside the converted arena. Men who use the facility will allowed to come and go during the day. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"It's really about physical distancing and trying to create that space," said Shelley VanBuskirk, Ottawa's director of housing services.

VanBuskirk said there's also a plan in place to house homeless and vulnerable women and their children during the pandemic.

The city is not releasing the location of that facility because some of the women could be fleeing domestic violence. 

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