As pandemic increases strain on homeless shelters, Montreal to provide temporary housing in hotels

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says she’s working with federal and provincial governments to temporarily house homeless people in mostly vacant hotels, as shelters continue to see an increase in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Advocates say permanent housing should be the goal

Volunteers at the Welcome Hall Mission prepare a Thanksgiving meal for patrons. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says she's working with federal and provincial governments to temporarily house people who are homeless in mostly vacant hotels once again, as shelters continue to see an increase in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I think we must seize the opportunity to quickly give a roof to many people who are currently on the streets or who have a very precarious status," Plante said on Tout le monde en parle Sunday night. 

She says the city's mandate is to try to find good resources for people, depending on their situation.

"There are many people who have decided to turn to shelters, and when we talk about homelessness, there are many different types of profiles," Plante said. 

The city opened up hotel rooms as an emergency solution during the first wave, but Plante says she wants things done more quickly this time, and she wants to provide shelter for more people. 

This time around, 450 to 500 homeless people could be housed in hotels, Plante said.

"Several hotels have contacted us, including those that were requisitioned last spring," Plante said. "We are looking into it with them."

Not everyone is comfortable in a hotel, she said, so the city is also looking into using dormitories. 

In May, Plante said the governments of Quebec and Canada need to develop a housing plan for Montreal "as quickly as possible." 

The pandemic has made the situation worse than ever, Plante said at the time, as the economic shutdown had taken a toll on so many jobs.

She encouraged anybody who needs housing help to call the city's 311 hotline. The city has increased its staff and streamlined resources, boosting its social-housing reference service.

This way, people who need help are accompanied through the process of finding an affordable place to live, Plante said.

Permanent solution needed: advocates

Homeless shelters have seen an increase in demand since the pandemic started, and as temperatures drop, ensuring homeless people have shelter is even more urgent, advocates say. 

Sam Watts runs the Welcome Hall Mission in Montreal. He says with winter coming, uncertainty is mounting with regards to how badly the pandemic will affect the city's homeless population. 

"We've started planning for it, but honestly, we don't know what we're going to face come November or December," Watts said. 

Sam Watts runs the Welcome Hall Mission in Montreal. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

He says temporary emergency housing is necessary, but the main goal should be to provide as many people as possible with permanent housing before winter hits. 

Watts is working with the city to get another overflow shelter set up by the end of November, but he says he hopes the city will do more to come up with permanent solutions. 

With files from Franca G. Mignacca and Radio-Canada


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