Montreal

Food banks, shelters race to protect Montrealers living in poverty from COVID-19

While Montreal homeless shelters and food banks are scaling back some services to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, others are scrambling to keep operations running as an expected volunteer shortage looms.

Moisson Montréal calls out to the community for volunteers while Old Brewery Mission scales back services

Welcome Hall Mission's Marché Bon Accueil offers low-income Montreal residents free groceries, but it is closing for at least a week. (CBC)

While Montreal homeless shelters and food banks are scaling back some services to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, others are scrambling to keep operations running as an expected volunteer shortage looms.

"We believe that everything can be done to provide the food to the people must be done," said Richard Daneau, executive director of the city's largest food bank, Moisson Montréal.

"If push comes to shove, we will call the federal government and ask for the army."

While governments enact emergency measures and shoppers scrape grocery store shelves clean of canned goods and toilet paper, Daneau said there are still people in the community who don't have food.

"We must not drop the people who are already in need," he said, but his organization relies on about 85 volunteers a day to keep the operation rolling, providing emergency food relief to the city's poor.

Richard Daneau, executive director of the city's largest food bank, Moisson Montréal, says volunteers are needed to keep his organization running smoothly. (CBC)

Daneau said about two thirds of Moisson Montréal's volunteers come from corporations. With schools cancelled and the Legault government encouraging people to work from home, he is concerned there will soon be a volunteer shortage despite his staff's best effort to maintain a clean, safe work environment.

No matter what happens, he said nobody on his team is giving up because "COVID-19 will not relieve hunger."

Welcome Hall scales back service

Sam Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, said he hopes "the Montreal community rallies around us."

Welcome Hall, which provides meals, groceries and a range of social services to about 600 people a day, is scaling back on interactions with the public starting Monday. 

The organization is shutting down its low-cost clothing boutique, employment services and two food banks for at least a week. Watts said the situation will be re-evaluated on a week-by-week basis.

"The actions are being taken reluctantly, but with a view to the greater good," he said. "If we can keep the community safe, then ultimately the individuals will be safe."

Staff will still be on site, he said, and people can still call if they need help. 

Sam Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, said he hopes Montrealers rally behind the city's homeless shelters and food banks. (CBC)

Old Brewery Mission closes warming station

The largest homeless shelter in the province will be turning volunteers away unless they are those who clean or have medical expertise.

The Old Brewery Mission is also closing its warming station at St. Michael's Mission two weeks early and shutting down a range of services, such as the internet café. 

Indoor supper service will be reserved for those with a bed at the shelter, and boxed meals will be provided to everybody else. There is an effort to find a space to isolate seniors and those with a compromised immune system.

Old Brewery Mission's CEO, Matthew Pearce, said he'd like to see a quarantine homeless shelter established in the city. (Montreal)

The Old Brewery Mission's CEO, Matthew Pearce, said he'd like to see a quarantine homeless shelter set up for those who need a place to stay, but are carrying the coronavirus.

 "This population is characterized by compromised health conditions," he said. "A large percentage of people are homeless because they suffer from chronic health issues that render them very vulnerable to the coronavirus."

Maison du Père calls for stronger government response

Effective immediately, the Depot Community Food Centre in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce has suspended all programming except for emergency food baskets. 

Emergency food baskets will be distributed by appointment only and people are asked to call the depot, leave a message and wait for a representative to call back within one day to make that appointment.

François Boissy, general manager of Maison du Père, said there are more than 300 men sleeping at the shelter every night — many of them are permanent residents. 

There is an effort there to increase hygiene and drastically reduce the spread of germs by introducing measures such as preparing all meals and cutlery in advance so clients aren't lining up at a buffet or scooping silverware out a communal bin. Boissy said clients will also be expected to wash their hands before dining.

François Boissy, general manager of Maison du Père, says homeless shelters and similar services have been treated as secondary while the government looks to contain COVID-19. (CBC)

But Boissy is concerned the upper levels of government have been focused on schools, events, public transit and municipal buildings while neglecting one of the province's most vulnerable populations.

"I've spoken with public health and I know that the measures we have taken are more than adequate," said Boissy, and similar organizations across the city are in constant communication with each other as they strategize on ways to protect people from COVID-19.

"But we're kind of secondary. We're kind of the last ones that are always involved. But we need to know what measures need to be taken at each of our organizations to make sure everybody is secure."

with files from CBC's Matt D'Amours

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