Coroner investigating after 2nd unhoused Montrealer dies in intense cold

A woman in her 60s died early Thursday after she was found lying outside near Berri-UQAM Metro station.

Woman in her 60s found in cardiac arrest near Berri-UQAM Metro station

Medics found the woman in cardiopulmonary arrest in downtown Montreal and she was pronounced dead shortly after. (Charles Contant/CBC)

For the second time this month, a person experiencing homelessness has been found dead in Montreal after a night out in the extreme cold. 

A spokesperson for Urgences Santé says the ambulance service received a 911 call for a woman in her 60s lying outdoors near Berri-UQAM Metro station. Medics found the woman in cardiopulmonary arrest and she was pronounced dead shortly after. 

It's still not clear whether the woman, who has been identified as Stella Stosik by Sam Watts, the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, died of the frigid temperatures or another health reason. Temperatures in the city dropped to –24 C early Thursday morning and felt colder with the wind.

Watts says Stosik used to stay at the hotel next to Place Émilie-Gamelin. It had been turned into a shelter last winter. But the shelter closed in July and he does not know where she went then.

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This is the second person without housing to die in 10 days. A 74-year-old man died in hospital after being found in a makeshift camp near an overpass in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood during an extreme cold snap on Jan. 10.

The coroner's office will investigate both of the deaths.

A group advocating on behalf of people living on the street, the Réseau d'aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), asked the city on Friday to keep doors to Metro stations open overnight until the cold snap ends to allow people to seek shelter from the freezing temperatures.

'She was a beautiful lady'

Ann-Gaël Whiteman, a coordinator at La rue des femmes, fondly recalls the "very tall, slim" Stosik telling stories of her childhood days as a ballerina.

"You could tell," she said. "She was a beautiful lady."

Stosik had been taking refuge on emergency beds for the past 16 years and anchored herself at La rue des femmes, a non-profit organization that helps women facing or experiencing homelessness.

"We were a family, that was her home, and she was in the process of healing," said Whiteman.

Like many other women who frequent the two women's shelters run by the organization, Stosik experienced trauma in her youth and found herself on the streets. 

"It was quite a find out how she died," said Whiteman.

The City of Montreal says there are 1,900 places available for people experiencing homelessness, but Whiteman says many of them aren't available due to severe staffing shortages and COVID-19 restrictions. 

Whiteman is not sure if Stosik tried to get a bed at one of the shelters the night before she died, but even if she had, none were available. 

"It's sad that we're becoming part of the problem when we're supposed to be there as a solution," she said. "It's on the backs of the shelters to decide who lives and who dies outside and it shouldn't be like that." 

Whiteman fears more people experiencing homelessness could die as temperatures continue to plummet, and she hopes Stosik's death prompts the government to get people out of the cold once and for all.