Facing long winter during a pandemic, Montreal opens three new homeless shelters
Temporary facilities will make up for fewer places available due to COVID-19
The City of Montreal and the province are opening three new temporary homeless shelters to offer beds and services to people living on the streets during the winter months.
Mayor Valérie Plante said the pandemic has forced most shelters to halve their capacity in order to maintain social distancing.
The city has been operating temporary shelters at Camilien Houde and Francis Bouillon arenas, but those are set to close this week.
Plante said these new shelters will meet the demand.
"We're getting into the cold season, so that's a security issue, it's a sanitary issue, so we need to support those people," Plante said Thursday at the old Royal Victoria Hospital, the site of one of the shelters.
The three facilities include:
- 200 spots on four floors at the old Royal Victoria hospital, with one floor reserved exclusively for women and one reserved for people who have COVID-19 or who are waiting for test results.
- 50 beds reserved for Indigenous people at Complexe Guy-Favreau.
- 65 places at the former YMCA in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
Plante said these shelters will be open until the end of March, next year. In addition, she said, many existing shelters are working on expanding their capacity.
Plan is lacking, critics say
The Réseau d'aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), a network of groups that help people living on the streets, said the measures don't go far enough.
In a statement, the group noted that the criteria for admission into the facility at the old Royal Victoria Hospital would exclude many homeless people.
The facility will be limited to people without serious alcohol or drug problems who are Canadian citizens and have lived in Montreal for at least 12 months out of the last two years.
RAPSIM also noted that the old Royal Victoria Hospital has been used in previous winters as an overflow facility when shelters are filled to capacity during cold snaps, and that this plan would eliminate that as an option.
The group also noted the facilities are mostly concentrated close to downtown, leaving many neighbourhoods underserved.
"Faced with this situation, we shouldn't be surprised to see the emergence of homeless camps throughout the territory of the island of Montreal," the RAPSIM statement said.
Police won't raid homeless camps, Plante says
Several impromptu camps have popped up around the city this summer, including a large one on Notre-Dame Street in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
The city has asked people to leave that camp by the end of the month, but Plante said they will not be forced out.
"We're not going to go in there with police officers forcing people to leave. We're not going to burn any tents. That is not the plan at all," Plante said.
She said the city and its partners will work with the people living in the camps to explain to them the other options available.