The number of cases of the novel coronavirus continues to rise in Montreal, reaching 1,991 on Tuesday, up from 1,612 on Monday.
Social distancing measures put in place in a bid to contain the spread of the virus have made providing food and shelter to the city’s homeless population difficult.
On Friday, Mayor Valérie Plante declared a state of emergency, citing a need to protect the city’s most vulnerable amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She also announced that the city planned to open more temporary shelters in the coming days.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Plante provided an update on the measures that have been put in place since the beginning of the health crisis.
She said despite all that’s been done, there is still need for more.
“Of course the needs remain huge and we don’t want to leave anyone behind,” she said.
To cope with the reduced number of beds in regular shelters due to physical distancing rules, two new shelters will be opening this week: one at Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal with a capacity of 50 beds reserved for men and one at the Jean-Claude Malépart Centre in the Centre-Sud borough with 60 beds for both men and women.
This will add to the 108 beds for men at Complexe Guy-Favreau and the 40 beds for women at the downtown YMCA, announced last week.
The former Royal Victoria Hospital, which served as an emergency overflow shelter in the winter months, is being transformed to house homeless people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are awaiting a diagnosis. Currently, those awaiting diagnosis are being housed in a hotel, while positive cases requiring treatment are being transferred to Notre-Dame hospital.
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The Royal Victoria will also be adding 100 units to provide shelter to the most vulnerable among the homeless population, including the elderly.
Three new outdoor day shelters — one at Place du Canada, one at Jeanne-Mance Park and the other outside the Francis Bouillon arena in Mercier-Hochelaga — were ready to welcome their new residents Tuesday afternoon.
This adds to the two day centres set up last week at Cabot Square and Parc Emilie-Gamelin, where people in need can get some food and rest for a bit under a tent.
The various shelters and day centres are being operated by community partners, including Resilience Montreal, the Old Brewery Mission and Mission Bon Accueil.
Plante said those on the front lines providing services to homeless people have not been forgotten.
“There is a first delivery of protection material as well as sanitary material that will be distributed to ensure the protection of workers,” she said.
She concluded by saying that the current health crisis cannot be allowed to turn into a humanitarian crisis as well.
“Everyone counts, everybody must be safe, everyone must have a shelter,” she said. “That’s why we are working so hard to find solutions quickly.”
It is welcome news for Matthhew Pearce, CEO and president of the Old Brewery Mission.
“I’m impressed with the pace the city has been working on this, these are not easy things to put in place,” he said.
“There may be some glitches in some of these services, you can’t open them that quickly and expect perfection. But there is a willingness to refine things over time,” Pearce said.
He added that the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t been easy for the city’s homeless population.
“Homeless people’s lives are much harder today than they were before COVID.”