FirstOntario Centre to become temporary ‘surge’ shelter for Hamilton homeless during pandemic


Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre will be the home of a new “surge” shelter to ease the burden for the city’s overcrowded men’s shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the city’s town hall on Wednesday evening, Paul Johnson, the director of Hamilton’s emergency operations centre, said they’re in the process of turning the downtown arena into a 50-bed overflow shelter.

“It’s going to help our three men’s shelters to actually lower their numbers within their shelters currently,” said Johnson.

“They recognize that their setup does not allow for the kinds of physical distancing that will help stop the spread of this, and they are very susceptible to outbreaks because of the numbers of people there.”

The city has also set aside hundreds of hotel rooms for homeless residents who need to self-isolate or stay safe during the pandemic, and so far, 46 of those are occupied.

There are also three isolation sites set up for homeless residents who test positive for COVID-19 — and at this point, only one person in the shelter system has needed to use one of those.

Advocates for Hamilton’s homeless population have been urging the city to set up more hygiene and rest stations for daytime use. As of this past weekend, there are now temporary washrooms and sinks set up at the corner of Bay Street and York Boulevard outside FirstOntario Centre.