EDMONTON -- Edmonton EXPO Centre starts the transition back to its hosting purposes Friday after operating for four months as a temporary homeless shelter in the pandemic.

Since March, EXPO – in partnership with the Alberta and city governments and Homeward Trust – has hosted some 5,500 different people, officials say.

The province covered the roughly $1.5 million in operating costs each month.

As well as daily drop-in services, the centre also offered a self-isolation area.

Organizers told CTV News Edmonton a positive case of COVID-19 was never found at the location – an “extraordinary feat” according to Dean Kurpjuweit, the Mustard Seed’s executive director.

“It was needed, it was helpful, it was good,” he said.

“We helped to keep COVID out of the homeless population. And our hope is that that would continue, and with the change in how we’re doing things, there’s obviously a little bit of heightened concern that we’ll be able to continue to do that.”

In order to continue the work, community partners need to find an EXPO replacement.

“It wasn’t going to be sustainable over the long term. So it was always a short term fix,” Kurpjuweit commented.

“That short term has come to an end and it’s now time to find another one.”

The centre will continue to offer isolation and other care services until Aug. 14, when they will be moved to a to-be-determined site.

The government said it remains committed to helping homeless Edmontonians with day services like laundry, meals and showers at Hope Mission and the Mustard Seed, with online services expected in the future.

However, need will grow in the winter, so the search has begun for another space that can operate like EXPO temporarily did.

“Our anticipation is CERB will end, as well as the stay on eviction notices will end, and so that’s got us really concerned,” Kurpjuweit said.

So far, the city says it has assessed dozens of facilities – none of which are adequate.

“Anything short of 10,000, 20,000 square feet doesn’t contribute a lot,” explained Homeward Trust’s Susan McGee.

“We’re looking at some pretty substantial square footage in order to meet the gap.”

Mayor Don Iveson expressed the same concern at a council meeting on Wednesday.

“The infrastructure of day services in Edmonton was already limited and already oversubscribed prior to the onset of this pandemic,” he noted.

“We do not want to see the progress we’ve made so far protecting vulnerable people come into jeopardy.”

On July 16, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health allowed trade shows and exhibitions again under certain requirements.  

While the Expo does not yet have a public reopening date, a spokesperson with the centre and Edmonton Economic Development said, “We are currently working closely with our trade and consumer show clients to determine a public reopening date based on our clients’ needs and demand for space.”

Any events that move forward in the fall, Lauren Andrews told CTV News Edmonton, like the Professional Bull Riders show on Oct. 23, will be subject to provincial health guidelines.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson