Keep an eye out for Montreal's homeless during the heat wave, Old Brewery Mission CEO says

Matthew Pearce of Montreal's Old Brewery Mission says the city's homeless need access to water and air-conditioned spaces to get through the ongoing heat wave.

Matthew Pearce says homeless people need access to water and air-conditioned spaces to get through heat wave

Matthew Pearce of Montreal's Old Brewery Mission says that like other Montrealers, homeless people in the city are looking to find ways to get out of the intense heat. (CBC)

Montrealers have been dealing with an ongoing heat wave, with temperatures regularly reaching the mid-30s over the past several days.

The extreme heat is especially challenging for vulnerable populations in the city, including more than 3,000 people who are homeless.

The City of Montreal announced Tuesday that it has distributed 17,000 litres of water to organizations that work with the homeless.

But difficulties remain, said Matthew Pearce, the CEO of Old Brewery Mission, who spoke to CBC Montreal's Daybreak about what the city's homeless need to get through the extreme heat.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

How are homeless people in Montreal coping with the heat wave?

They're looking for shelter. They're looking for a way to get out of the intense heat. They're looking for access to water. They're not different from other Montrealers.

Have you seen cases of heat stroke or heat exhaustion?

Fortunately, we haven't seen heat strokes or heat exhaustion around the Old Brewery Mission and our various locations, but the order of the day for all of us at the mission is vigilance.

The protocol is not very complicated; it's just a matter of making sure the doors are wide open for people to come into our air-conditioned environment, and making sure water is available at all times.

What kind of challenges does a heat wave present for homeless people who are also dealing with mental illness?

People with mental illness or people who have drug or alcohol dependency, their decision-making is compromised. Their symptoms aren't as obvious to detect.

That again [calls] for very close observation and very close vigilance.

What have organizations like yours been doing to help?

We have a shuttle service going around places [that] homeless people might frequent. We have water bottles. We invite people inside the air-conditioned shuttle where they can cool down.

I think coordination is very important. We coordinate very closely with Welcome Home Mission, La Maison du Père, and Accueil Bonneau. We think the city should play a coordinating role, as well.

What should people do when they see a homeless person who looks like he or she might need help?

There's a couple of things [they can do]: If they're okay, but look like they need a bottle of water, give them a bottle of water. Otherwise, they should direct them to the Old Brewery Mission or some of the other resources.

And finally, if they seem to be in distress, they should call 811 [the city's Info-Santé line].

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak