Montreal plans to establish new homeless shelter in face of growing demand

With local homeless shelters filling to the brim before winter officially arrives, the City of Montreal says it is looking to establish a new, 80-bed facility as soon as possible.

Shelters have increased capacity in recent years, but advocates say it's still not enough

Advocates say there are up to 3,000 homeless people in Montreal, though not live on the streets, the cold weather creates an influx of people looking for a warm bed. (Charles Contant/CBC)

With local homeless shelters filling to the brim before winter officially arrives, the City of Montreal says it is looking to establish a new, 80-bed facility as soon as possible.

Coun. Rosannie Filato, the city's executive committee member in charge of homelessness, said the first step will be to find a location — a space where people can go for more than just a warm bed at night.

"It's not necessarily the traditional places that you see with X number of beds," she said in an interview Friday.

"It's somewhere that can accept animals for example somewhere where somebody doesn't necessarily go to sleep, but can go to get some heat, some food."

The province is on board with finding a place very soon, she said, that offers a "higher level of acceptability." That means accepting, for example, men, women and people with animals.

The goal is to work closely with community groups and health officials to provide a range of services that go beyond the 80 overnight beds, she said. 

An emergency meeting was called Thursday with provincial officials and directors of groups such as the Old Brewery Mission, Welcome Hall Mission and the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion. 

The goal of the meeting was to come up with concrete solutions before the situation spirals out of control.

Filato didn't put a price tag on the new shelter but said the province would provide assistance.

Shelters filling up earlier than usual

Matthew Pearce, executive director of the Old Brewery Mission, said prior to Friday's anouncement that the city's homeless shelters are unable to meet the demand.

The mission's 310-bed shelter downtown that has been more packed than normal since November — a month that was unusually cold this year.

"We're seeing people moving toward the shelters in large numbers and filling up the beds at a much earlier time in the winter than we're accustomed to," he said.

Advocates say there are roughly 2,500 to 3,000 homeless people in Montreal at any one time, though not all are living on the street. 

Currently, there are about 950 emergency beds available in Montreal. When cold weather moves in, those beds go quick.

Matthew Pearce is the president and CEO of Old Mission Brewery in Montreal. He said the new research shows that lots of money is spent on homelessness, but current approaches may not do enough to end the problem. (CBC)

Among those that need a fast solution is the Welcome Hall Mission. Located near the Bell Centre, it has a total of 240 beds.

Sam Watts, the organization's executive director, said he's worried what will happen if more people need the mission's services.

"We've increased capacity — many of us have — but, at the same time, we've been full ever since the summer," he said. "We're full every night and sometimes we actually have to turn some people away to other resources."

Things are only going to get worse, he said, as temperatures plummet.

Rising housing costs add to problem

The Welcome Hall Mission has helped some 250 people get off the streets and into housing over the last two years, but there are more homeless people every year, said Watts.

The rising cost of living in the city has only added to the problem, he said.

"One of the realities of our economy is that there are always going to be people who who need to be helped along the way," he said.

Earlier this year, Montreal announced a $7.8-million plan to counter homelessness.

The plan includes financing a new wet shelter and adding 950 more housing units over the next three years.

The city also aims to have more resources available to those on the street and offer more housing to those who want to get off the street.

With files from Jay Turnbull

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