Not enough spaces in Montreal shelters, intervention workers say

The city of Montreal says it's offering more than 1,900 places in emergency shelters and cites a labour shortage as the reason for the current lack of resources.

Old Brewery Mission turns more than 20 people away every day

Émilie Fortier is the director of emergency services at the Old Brewery Mission. (Radio-Canada)

Organizations helping unhoused people in Montreal are struggling to meet demand this winter, although the city says it's offering more places than ever in emergency shelters. Shuttle services are trying to remedy the situation.

At the Old Brewery Mission (OBM), every day, more than 20 people are being turned away, Émilie Fortier, director of emergency services at the OBM, said.

The city of Montreal says it's offering more than 1,900 places in emergency shelters and cites a labour shortage as the reason for the current lack of resources.

While the workers interviewed also say that the lack of personnel is a problem, they say other needs still need to be addressed. In recent weeks two homeless people died outside during extreme cold spells.

Andréane Désilets and Valérie Pelletier, of Maison Benoit Labre, are touring the Sud-Ouest borough with food and coffee. (Radio-Canada)

"Despite what Ms. Plante keeps telling the media, there are not enough places," Andréane Désilets, director of Maison Benoit Labre, said. "I strongly urge her to spend an evening with us and see the sad reality."

Many of the current spaces open are not available to everyone. The 350 places at the Stade de soccer de Montréal, for example, are meant for people with COVID-19 only. 

The Old Brewery Mission shuttle transports between 20 and 70 people a day to drop-in centers or other resources. (Radio-Canada)

Having mental health issues, using alcohol or other substances, wanting to stay with a significant other, hauling luggage, or not feeling safe also prevent people in need from accessing resources, according to the intervention workers.

Shuttling between services

The Old Brewery Mission runs a shuttle service to drive those in need to drop-in centres and shelters. Every evening, between 20 and 70 people use it.

"We really have a labour shortage, not only at the level of qualified drivers but also intervention workers," Fortier said. "We usually manage to offer it from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. for the small shuttle, but it should be doubled and continue at night to ensure that everyone is safe."

The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) says it's helping the OBM find a driver among its retirees. "We should be finished interviewing the available candidates by the beginning of the week," an STM spokesperson said by email.

Andréane Désilets and Valérie Pelletier of the Maison Benoit Labre assist people at Monk Metro station. (Radio-Canada)

In the Sud-Ouest, Désilets gives food, coffee and warm clothes to homeless people with a colleague. They inform them about existing resources and try to direct them there, when space is available.

On Saturday night through Sunday, they met nine homeless people after spending an hour at Monk Metro station.

"We made an official request to open the metro entrances because clearly, we are not meeting the minimum need for people to just be safe, and not to freeze to death outside," she said.

Entrances are normally closed for a few hours each night, but the STM kept entrances open at Berri-UQAM, Langelier, and Atwater stations last week at the request of the city's Centre de coordination des mesures d'urgence de la Ville de Montréal (CCMU) as a last resort solution due to the pandemic and extreme cold.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel