Montreal readies hotel beds for homeless amid pandemic, but gaps in assistance remain

Advocates for Montreal's homeless population say many still have nowhere to go — even those awaiting their COVID-19 test results. And they are still being ticketed by police.

Addiction, pets complicate measures for those who have nowhere to self-isolate

Warming centres, like that at Parc Émilie-Gamelin, have been set up in Montreal for the homeless. The city has also requisitioned hotels, but some say getting a spot isn't so easy. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Advocates for Montreal's homeless population say many still have nowhere to go — even those awaiting their COVID-19 test results.

And those still gathering in public can face steep fines.

David Chapman, a project co-ordinator at Resilience Montreal, says the homeless might choose to not get tested at all if they do not get support.

"The truth is a lot of homeless have a small pet or an addiction," he said. "This needs to be incorporated into the model that we're going with."

A spokesperson for the City of Montreal says the risks associated with an addict, such as the possibility of withdrawal or overdose, are "incompatible with a hotel stay."

They said the regional health authority's addiction specialists are working to get "as many people as possible" a warm bed.

Threat of $1,000 tickets

One woman Chapman accompanied over the weekend was denied emergency shelter as she awaited her test result because she has a pet dog.

With a persistent cough since January, Sandra Tremblay was tested on Saturday. After waiting for hours for a spot in a hotel the city has requisitioned for homeless people awaiting their test results, she was turned away.

"I have a very small dog," says Tremblay, adding that the animal is good for her mental health. 

"I was honest, but they told me no, that it's a hotel policy." She now spends much of her time in Cabot Square.

With all gatherings banned in the province, homeless Montrealers have been among those issued steep fines for failing to follow public health guidelines.

Police can issue fines of $1,000 plus fees, and if referred to the prosecutor's office that amount can rise to as high as $6,000.

Const. Jean-Pierre Brabant confirmed that some homeless people have been among the dozens of Montrealers ticketed, but could not say how many.

He said those gathering are given a warning before a fine is issued.

State of emergency

The City of Montreal declared a state of emergency two weeks ago and set up outdoor centres where the homeless can warm up and get a meal during the day.

There are also currently 222 hotel rooms the city is using at different hotels to make up for the homeless services that have closed as resources and volunteers remain scarce.

A man visits a day centre for the homeless set up in Parc Émilie Gamelin. The city declared a state of emergency two weeks ago, establishing the day centres as homeless shelters struggled to find volunteers and resources. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

In addition to the hotel to house those awaiting test results, there are also two for men who have tested negative and one for women who have tested negative.

The old Royal Victoria Hospital, used an emergency homeless shelter in recent years, is now an isolation centre for homeless who have tested positive for the virus.

Sam Watts, head of the Welcome Hall Mission, has been assisting the city in its response. He acknowledged there's still confusion as to where people with pets and addictions can go.

"We've got a process that it's in place that is working but does have a couple of gaps in it," he said.

"There are certain people who will get tested and not have an exact place to go or not be clear on where it is that they should be going."

Watts said he expressed his concerns with the city, and expects changes to be made.

With reporting by Antoni Nerestant

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