How Montreal is trying to get the city's homeless safely inside for the winter

Social workers and moving teams visit small patch of green space along Notre-Dame Street, offering to help the dozens of campers there pack up and transport them to temporary winter shelters like the Hotel Place Dupuis.

Teams at Notre-Dame site Tuesday, helping to pack and store belongings and transport people to nearby shelters

City employees and social workers visited the homeless encampment along Notre-Dame Street on Tuesday, trying to get people to move inside for the winter. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

With frosty weather rolling into town, Montreal is ramping up its effort to get the city's homeless population safely inside for the winter — offering a range of options such as hotel accommodations, a shuttle bus, warming stations and even storage lockers.

Mayor Valérie Plante said on Tuesday that authorities can't force people to move indoors, but the city is doing everything it can to encourage all those in need to take advantage of the various services offered. 

"We need to bring people to other types of services because it is getting cold out there," she said.

"We are lucky because we have a lot of different types of resources."

Teams are heading out to the far reaches of the city, not just downtown, to hand out notices and build awareness of the various warming stations, overnight shelters and organizations that work to help homeless people get back on their feet.

One of the first stops Tuesday morning was the large encampment along Notre-Dame Street just east of downtown, trying to get people to move and store their camping equipment for the winter.

"There are still people who live in tents, there are some on Notre-Dame but there are some in other places where people are in tents," Plante said.

"So today we are starting this exercise of solidarity, going to every person and telling them about the different options for them."

Social workers speak with a man in the homeless encampment on Notre-Dame Street Tuesday. The city is offering to help residents pack up and move out. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Notices were distributed to people living along Notre-Dame Street, alerting them to the plan to help them move.

Teams then arrived Tuesday to help residents pack up their belongings and transport them to temporary shelters, like the Hotel Place Dupuis, where there are 380 hotel beds available.

Plante said there are several other places for people to spend the night, rather than trying to survive southern Quebec's bitter cold.

Working to keep homeless people safe

The city has been working since the early days of the pandemic to help the homeless population stay safe. Back in late March and April, temporary shelters were set up with hygiene measures in place.

But when the warmer weather moved in, people moved out and many took to camping in city parks — something that is usually against the rules.

Montreal relaxed restrictions in some areas and the stretch of green along Notre-Dame slowly filled up with residents over the summer. Since then, people have been reluctant to move out.

The encampment along Notre-Dame Street grew significantly over the summer, and now the city is offering to move people into shelters instead. (Jean-Claude Taliana)

The Welcome Hall Mission is managing the shelter inside the Hotel Place Dupuis. It is open to people of all genders and their pets too.

Sam Watts, the organization's CEO, has said the hotel is designed to help people connect with resources and, hopefully, to begin the process of getting off the streets for good.

He said in early November that there will be outreach workers on site to work with those who stay there.

"What we're going to do is find out what they need and refer them to that right spot," he said.

Solidaribus to be on the move 18 hours a day

The Old Brewery Mission is also partnering with the city in helping to connect people to resources.

But rather than relying only on the organization's van to shuttle people around as was done in the past, a city bus — called Solidaribus — will be on the move 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

James Hughes, the mission's president and CEO, said the bus will help keep people safely distanced while transporting them from the streets to a warm place to spend the night.

"When anybody wants a place, we will be there to pick them up and bring them inside," said Hughes.

"It's our responsibility collectively to make sure we offer a place to everyone who wants one."

Inspectors with the city's transit authority, the STM, will also be patrolling the Metro network alongside Montreal police officers and social workers from the Société de développement social to help connect people to services.

"We will protect people and keep people safe," said Hughes on Tuesday, speaking alongside Plante in the Place-des-Arts Metro station.

"That's our obligation and that's the one we are fulfilling through this announcement today."