Montreal converts arena, soccer stadium into homeless shelters

Dozens of Montrealers experiencing homelessness will have additional place to sleep tonight, as the city scrambles to boost shelter capacity, under pressure from recent COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Two new shelters, warming centre set to open over coming days

Cots and tables have been strictly divided at the Pierre-Charbonneau arena, a new temporary homeless shelter in Montreal's east end, ensuring clients can keep a distance from one another during their stay. (Renaud Boulanger/CBC)

Dozens of Montrealers experiencing homelessness will have a new place to sleep tonight, as the city scrambles to overcome a lack of shelter capacity made worse by recent COVID-19 outbreaks. 

A new temporary homeless shelter has opened at the Pierre-Charbonneau sports arena near the Olympic stadium and will remain in operation until at least March 31.

The Red Cross is also setting up 150 beds at the Stade de soccer de Montréal on Papineau Avenue for people without homes who test positive for COVID-19. 

Unlike the space set up at the old Royal Victoria Hospital, this centre is strictly for those who have little to no symptoms and who do not need medical treatment.

A new warming centre is also expected to open up in Cabot Square at some point next week.

24/7 spaces allow people to stay put

The 24-hour shelter at Pierre Charbonneau arena is a collaboration between community group CAP St-Barnabé and CARE Montreal. Right now, it has only 40 beds but it will eventually be able to welcome up to 112 people, with 30 of those spaces reserved for women. 

The temporary homeless shelter will remain in operation until at least March 31. (Renaud Boulanger/CBC)

Michelle Patenaude, director of clinic operations at CAP St-Barnabé, said the organization agreed to help run the centre on the condition that it remain open 24/7. 

"Personally, places like Hotel Place Dupuis are great, but sadly, people can't stay there all day," said Patenaude.

Montreal Public Health Director Dr. Mylène Drouin said Friday that is one of many reasons COVID-19 outbreaks are difficult to control among people experiencing homelessness. 

"There's high mobility with this population, so people are moving from one shelter to another, from one place to another," said Drouin. 

Since the beginning of December, Drouin said, 192 people experiencing homelessness have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 82 people from the community groups who work with them. 

Many of those cases, she said, stem from outbreaks in 13 different facilities — eight of which are still active. 

The need to find shelter space for Montreal's homeless population has grown increasingly urgent in recent weeks, especially as the premier has stated those experiencing homelessness will not be exempt from following the 8 p.m. curfew.

Calls for more overnight spaces were amplified further earlier this week, following the death of Raphaël André, a 51-year-old Innu man who died just steps away from the Open Door drop-in centre, which is currently closed overnight because of a COVID-19 outbreak last month.

Vaccination campaign proceeding

Drouin is hoping that the new shelters, along with the city's vaccination program for people who are homeless, will improve the situation. 

The converted arena will eventually be able to welcome up to 112 people. (Renaud Boulanger/CBC)

So far, about 400 people experiencing homelessness and 200 workers have been vaccinated. The city hopes to vaccinate about 500 more in the coming weeks. 

"We have a massive action plan to control the situation. We're doing screening with different community organizations and shelters," Drouin said.


  • An earlier version of this story stated the Red Cross shelter was being set up at TAZ Skatepark. In fact, it was being set up at the Stade de soccer de Montréal nearby.
    Jan 25, 2021 2:02 PM ET

With files from Radio-Canada

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