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Montreal women’s shelters raise alarm over lack of beds for homeless women

In this file photo, a homeless person takes refuge in a bus shelter in Montreal.
In this file photo, a homeless person takes refuge in a bus shelter in Montreal. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

A lack of shelter space for homeless women in Montreal is forcing them to sleep on the streets, according to the head of an aid organization.

Leonie Couture of La Rue des Femmes said the organization has had to turn women away at night since having to close 10 beds for the summer season.

As a result, she said, women who are experiencing homelessness are left to sleep in alleyways where they are vulnerable.

“The women ask us for a list of where we think it would be safest to sleep in the streets,” she said. “It’s not right.”

Couture said the government provides extra funding for shelters in winter months due to the danger of letting women sleep outside in the cold, but in the summer the organization can only maintain emergency services, leaving only a few beds available.

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“Yes, the cold is the enemy for everyone, but assaults and violence are even worse in the spring,” she said.

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Marcele Lamarche, the general director of a housing service for women in difficulty, agreed there is a lack of short and long-term housing in the city.

The organization she leads, Le Chaînon, currently houses 66 women and doesn’t have the capacity to take in any more.

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She said women’s homelessness differs from men’s and needs its own solutions.

While new grants would be welcome, she argued there also needs to be a better distribution of resources between the various organizations that help women.

“Before developing new resources, I need first to be subsidized to the level of what I am currently doing,” she said, noting government funding makes up only eight per cent of her organization’s budget.

READ MORE: Montreal increases funding to support homeless women

Lamarche also claimed in an open letter she co-authored earlier this year that women’s organizations receive fewer resources and less funding than those designed for men.

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“In the Montreal of 2018, which for the first time has a woman as (mayor), it’s scandalous that a health and social service is financed differently dependent on whether the users are men and women,” the letter said.