VICTORIA -- Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre is being converted into a temporary shelter for dozens of people from the city’s homeless camps during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Approximately 45 people from the city’s homeless encampments in Topaz Park and along Pandora Avenue will be housed inside the arena “in the coming days,” according to the province.

The arena floor is being prepared with individual pods to help shelter-goers self-isolate in privacy during the novel coronavirus outbreak. The province says it has never used the pods before.

BC Housing says it will begin moving people into the arena this week and will staff the site 24 hours a day, in partnership with PHS Community Services Society.

"This is a challenging time for everyone, especially for people experiencing homelessness,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, in a statement Tuesday.

“In Victoria, we have seen encampments at Topaz Park and the Pandora corridor grow into unsafe, dense encampments that are compounding existing health, well-being and safety challenges.”

GSL Group, the developer and operator of the arena, said it was prepared to convert the Save-On-Foods centre for public health use from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are pleased to support the province's effort to provide an emergency response centre and the ongoing efforts from the province and the City of Victoria to support those in need," said GSL president and CEO Graham Lee.

The centre will accommodate couples and groups of people who wish to stay together, where possible, according to the province.

Shelter-goers will have access to meals, washrooms, health care, addictions treatment and harm reduction facilities, as well as storage for their belongings.

The pop-up pods were provided through a partnership with Staples Business Advantage Canada and are currently being installed in the arena.

BC Housing says it has also partnered with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness to open 12 temporary shelter spaces at a different location to provide culturally supportive services to Indigenous peoples who are experiencing homelessness.

Between April 25 and May 4, the province moved 92 people from the encampments on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park into temporary accommodations.