Warming tent in Cabot Square honours Raphaël André, who died steps from shelter after curfew
Tent features wood floor, heaters and Adirondack chairs for 16 people to warm up at a time overnight
A warming tent for the Montreal homeless population is being erected in Cabot Square and will be open during curfew hours for the next two weeks.
The tent is meant to honour Raphaël Napa André, a 51-year-old Innu man who was found dead mere steps away from the Open Door shelter earlier this month, after public health officials had ordered it closed overnight.
The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal and Resilience Montreal spearheaded the initiative, which has received financial support from businesses and individual community members in Kahnawà:ke and from other Indigenous communities in Quebec.
After a lobbying campaign by homeless advocates, the city administration gave the project the green light and provided the tent.
A number of people are travelling from outside Montreal, including as far as Quebec City, to provide support and security at the tent overnight.
"It's unbelievable how, in the face of tragedy, the Indigenous community can come together, as well as the people of Montreal," said Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal.
Last week, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled homeless people should be exempted from the provincewide curfew after the provincial government resisted calls to do so.
But Nakuset says there remained a need for another place Montrealers without homes could go in the cold.
The initiative is also a way of honouring André's memory, she said, explaining it's the reason the facility will be open during curfew hours.
André died just seven days after the province announced the measure. Many in the homeless community decried the government's decision not to create an exemption for them, saying it added extra pressure to find a place to stay in the city's overburdened overnight shelters, or left them little time to travel to the rare shelters that did have an open space.
Sixteen people will be allowed in the warming tent at a time. There will be Adirondack chairs for people to sit in, as well as a wood floor and heaters powered by generators. No alcohol will be permitted inside.
"We're trying to make it as homey as possible," Nakuset said. "Maybe some people will come for a few hours to warm up, and maybe some will stay the whole night. It's hard to predict, but they're welcome to come."
Innu elders are also planning to visit the tent and distribute mittens, gloves and socks made in their communities, she said.
With files from Josh Grant