How Montreal is helping its homeless population during fierce Omicron wave
Shelters managed in partnership with community groups and health authority
The City of Montreal has requisitioned two hotels downtown for people experiencing homelessness, offering both an overflow shelter for Indigenous people and 111 spots to those who need to isolate.
This comes as the Omicron variant has ripped through the province indiscriminately. Even Mayor Valérie Plante has tested positive for COVID-19, and she again declared a state of emergency in an effort to protect the city's most vulnerable, which was renewed on New Year's Eve.
Among the powers given by declaration, is the ability for the city to quickly set up emergency shelters.
In March 2020, the mayor declared a state of emergency that lasted 17 months until August, when vaccination rates were up and cases were down.
Plante said declaring a state of emergency for a second time since the pandemic began ensures the continuity of public services, also allowing the city to purchase protective and screening equipment while supporting community organizations.
One hotel will be used for those who have been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person or suspect they have the disease and need to isolate while waiting for test results.
The space will also be used by those unhoused who have contracted the virus but don't need hospitalization.
Émilie Fortier, director of services at the Old Brewery Mission, said the Omicron variant is hitting the homeless population and "being able to isolate them allows us to protect other people who are experiencing homelessness."
The mission is working with the regional health authority on managing the isolation hotel — a space that doubles the mission's capacity.
The second hotel will be a 24/7 overflow shelter for Indigenous people in Montreal's Milton Park neighbourhood. It will open in February, and it will be run by Projets Autochtones du Québec.
"A 24/7 shelter means, for the people who are staying there, it's a much more humane model because you don't have to get up in the morning with your stuff and go out on the street in the cold," said the organization's executive director, Heather Johnston.
Johnston said it will also ensure that the homeless population is protected during the day by providing other social work services.
with files from Rowan Kennedy and Radio-Canada