Emergency shelter opens Monday in St. Boniface to provide refuge during COVID-19 pandemic

While it closed its doors to the public on Monday, the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain has teamed up with St. Boniface Street Links to provide a roof for those most in need during the pandemic.

CCFM has transformed into an emergency shelter for the homeless community

Marion Willis of St. Boniface Street Links has teamed up with the Centre culturel franco-manitobain to open up an emergency shelter to house vulnerable people living east of downtown during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rosalie Loiselle/Radio-Canada)

An emergency shelter in St. Boniface will offer a safe haven for individuals and families without a home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it closed its doors to the public last Monday, the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain has teamed up with St. Boniface Street Links to provide a roof to the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness east of downtown.

"Well, it's a pandemic and we needed to come together as a community and see what we could do to create a place for them," said Marion Willis, founder and executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, a charitable organization that works with the homeless community.

When the local non-profit contacted members of the CCFM's management, it made sense to them to lend a hand.

Marketing manager Maxime Silberstein told CBC Radio-Canada the city's French cultural centre recently complied with government recommendations by asking concierge teams to be more vigilant, in addition to offering hydroalcoholic gel dispensers.

Both residents and volunteers welcomed by the centre will be limited to the Jean-Paul Aubry room, with access to hygiene, heating, a kitchen and food.

The primary concern raised by Willis is the lack of showers at the facility, which has capacity to host up to 50 people that are willing to self isolate — and only one shower. She has asked for a key to the nearby Notre Dame Recreational Centre for access to more showers.

"I've realized that if we're going to do anything to address homelessness over here, see how we can identify and serve the population in a way that we also engage them to help flatten the curve, that we would actually have to set up a shelter over here," she said.

"The shelter systems on the other side of the river are full, and there's a very large population over there," she said. "On this side of the river, though, there are no services."

In an effort to close the gap, Willis opened Morberg House, a transitional residence for men who struggle with addiction and homelessness.

The new space located across the street at CCFM, near the corner of Provencher Boulevard and Des Meurons Street, will be open to all as of Monday.

Willis said volunteers will assist people who need to get identification, register for income support plans and find more permanent affordable housing options.

"It'll break my heart if there's unsheltered children. But whoever shows up is who we will help," she said.

In addition to providing a roof and services for unsheltered people scattered throughout the city, the charity will also try to educate temporary residents about precautions to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

(CBC News)

With files from CBC Radio-Canada's Mohamed-Amin Kehel