Montreal to provide 380 hotel beds for homeless, but encampments won't be shut down for now

With the first full winter of the COVID-19 pandemic looming and homelessness on the rise, the city has been scrambling to make more warming spaces and beds available.

Cruise ship terminal in Old Port to become day centre

The Quebec government is hoping people will leave the homeless encampment on Notre-Dame Street East, but it won't force them to. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Among Montreal's bolstered efforts to protect its homeless population this winter, the city is making 380 beds available downtown at Hotel Place Dupuis and using a cruise ship terminal in the Old Port as a day centre. 

With the first full winter of the COVID-19 pandemic looming and homelessness on the rise, the city has been scrambling to make more warming spaces and beds available — investing $5 million in a series of measures aimed at drawing people away from the homeless encampments that have cropped up across the city since the early days of the pandemic.

For now, there are no plans to force people out of the encampments, like the one located on Notre-Dame Street just east of downtown.

"As long as the person is not in danger or doesn't put someone else in danger, we give them the choice," said the province's junior health minister, Lionel Carmant, during a news conference Thursday.

"However, if there is a danger, especially with winter coming, we will accompany them to hospitals so we can take care of them and redirect them toward necessary resources."

Among those resources will be the beds at Hotel Place Depuis, which will be available to people of all genders along with their pets. The project is being established with a $3-million agreement with the hotel.

"There is a place for everybody right now — anyway, that's our hope, and this is what we worked toward," said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, speaking alongside Carmant.

The Welcome Hall Mission will manage the hotel site. The homeless organization's CEO and executive director, Sam Watts, says there's a lot of preparation left to do and time is running out.

"The last pandemic that was in Montreal was 1919," he said. "Here we are in 2020, and just the level of response that's required to keep everybody safe is monumental."

The city and the province have also established an agreement with the Port of Montreal, which is allowing a cruise ship terminal to be used as a day centre that can welcome more than 300 people.

The city says there's been a spike in the number of homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Between the hotel and the port, there will be space for 1,650 people to warm up and receive services this winter as of next week and continuing through to April, officials say.

Nine other warming centres are being set up around the city, including in neighbourhoods outside of the downtown area such as Lachine, Pierrefonds and Montréal-Nord.

The funding used for these projects is largely coming from the federal government.

With files from Matt D'Amours

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