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Montreal’s Olympic Stadium Joins List of Arenas to Have Served as Emergency Shelters

23 Aug, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Large sports arenas have a history of multi-tasking, whether it’s hosting events from Final Four to rock concerts. But recently, we’ve seen these venues transformed for more humanitarian purposes – at the loss of economic impact from sports events.

Take the Louisiana Superdome (now known as the Mercedez-Benz Superdome) which served as a shelter and supply source for more than 14,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And as recently as this past December, the wildfires in Tennessee found Rocky Top Sports World serving as an emergency shelter.

The latest sports venue to be affected is Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, which is being used to house asylum seekers from the U.S. The story broke in early August, and was picked up by CBC News. According to the report, many of the refugees are Haitians, including children and pregnant women.

"We've never seen this before," said Francine Dupuis, who oversees PRAIDA, the provincial government organization that helps claimants in their first months. "It's really quite a bit more intense than what we're used to."

Between 100 and 450 cots have been set up in the Olympic Stadium. The asylum seekers are being housed in the area with concession stands just on the border of the actual arena. Many of the new arrivals had fled to Canada after hearing the U.S. might begin deporting Haitians in January 2018.

As Canadians rallied to show support for the refugees, it quickly became apparent that this might have been one of the few times an arena was vacant and had no real prospects of losing income by acting as a shelter. According to NBC News, the purpose for which the structure was built, the Olympic Games, took place in Montreal more than four decades ago. Major League Baseball's Expos skipped town in 2004 for Washington D.C., where they now play as the Nationals.

This makes Montreal’s arena unique and stands in contrast to the Superdome, which was supposed to host the New Orleans Saints (which played four of their scheduled home games at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, three at the Alamodome in San Antonio, and one at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey) and Rocky Top (which, according to a report in SDM, had to cancel sports events during the time it was used as a shelter).

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