Montreal

Nearly 7,000 visits to Royal Victoria Hospital's overflow shelter last winter

The shelter provided a warm spot for people and their pets to spend the night during one of the coldest and dampest winters Montreal has seen in recent years.

CEO of Welcome Hall Mission calls it a 'necessary patch' that will be needed again

The Ross Pavilion originally opened in 1916 and housed private patient rooms. (CBC)

The homeless shelter set up at the former Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal received almost 7,000 visits over the three months it was open.

The shelter was set up to take on overflow from shelters in the city's core.

Open for 90 nights starting on January 15, the shelter provided a warm spot for people and their pets to spend the night during one of the coldest and dampest winters Montreal has seen in recent years.

The CIUSSS Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal released the following numbers about the overflow shelter's first winter in operation:

  • There were 6,796 stays from 1,585 individuals at the shelter.
  • It was used mostly by men (1,402), followed by women (173) and people who identify as transgender (10).
  • The age of users at the shelter ranged from 18 to 85, with an average age of 46.
  • On six nights, the shelter had more than 100 visitors.
  • The shelter had its highest occupancy on March 11, the day after a snowstorm.

"We were able to make sure that people had a place to go, even if it was only for a couple of hours. It was also open to everybody," said Sam Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission.

"We called it a high-accessibility overflow shelter. And it was something that had not been tried in Montreal. But it worked."

The overflow shelter was an initiative by the CIUSSS, the Health Ministry, Bon Accueil Mission, Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion, Old Brewery Mission, Maison du Père shelter, Welcome Hall Mission and the Accueil Bonneau centre.

Watts said the temporary shelter helped workers reach homeless people they had never come across before. But the project was not without its hiccups, such as with a shuttle that brought people uphill from downtown to the former Royal Victoria site.

The cots in the rooms were provided by the Red Cross. (CBC)

He said it was difficult on some mornings to get everyone back to the shelters and kitchens downtown for their morning meal.

"When we're closing down in the morning it's pretty hard to get 100 people back down the hill in a hurry and get them to breakfast because there's multiple trips that you have to make," said Watts.

He said that if the Royal Victoria site is available next year, organizers would make some changes to the transportation of clients based on what they learned this year.

Despite the shelter being able to successfully accommodate thousands of visits, Watts still sees this type of effort as just a temporary solution.

"It's a necessary patch," he said. "It's going to be necessary again next winter. But nonetheless, we're aiming toward a time when we won't need this sort of thing."

Montreal's executive committee approved a $50,000 contribution to the project, with the rest of the $228,000 budget coming from the provincial government.

About the Author

Elias Abboud

Journalist

Elias Abboud is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

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