PRINCE ALBERT -- Several Prince Albert groups have built a temporary cold weather homeless shelter in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shelter will double the amount of beds currently available from 10 to 20. There will be room for more in emergency situations.

The shelter will include also include a kitchen and washrooms with showers.

The YWCA has been operating a 10-bed cold weather shelter for several years, but needed more space to allow for physical distancing.

The temporary shelter will be located underneath of the grandstand at the exhibition grounds. It’s set to open on Nov. 1 after some minor renovations.

YWCA Prince Albert executive director Donna Brooks said she was worried about where the homeless population would go during the pandemic when winter came.

"They're very vulnerable. They have health issues, they're out in the cold. They don't have the same support and luxuries as maybe a lot of people do. There was a concern with, how do they isolate? There was a concern with if we get a case in our shelter, where do they go?"

The YWCA is one of several organizations in the Vulnerable Peoples Working Group. The City of Prince Albert leads the group, which was formed in April to respond to challenges arising from COVID-19.

The Riverbank Development Corporation, Prince Albert Police Service, Prince Albert Mobile Crisis and the Saskatchewan Health Authority are among the other groups involved.

Riverbank Development Corporation Manager Brian Howell said the pandemic has made “couch surfing” a much less reliable option for the homeless population. Additionally, he said, businesses are less likely to allow people to come in and warm up.

“This shelter, in a sense, is our plan for the worst. This is as best as we can do. This is as much space as we can get,” said Howell.

“We know in our hearts that we’re ready for whatever disaster may come our way and that we’ve done our best to protect the population that we work with.”

The renovations will be covered by a federal grant provided to the City of Prince Albert. Operating costs will be funded by the Riverbank Development Corporation through the federal Reaching Home program, the Ministry of Social Services and the YWCA.