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Community groups urge officials to not cut support for most vulnerable amid COVID-19 recovery

Protecting Montreal’s most vulnerable during a pandemic
WATCH: Protecting Montreal's most vulnerable during a pandemic

Community leaders in Montreal are calling on governments to ensure that they look after the city’s most vulnerable as discussions to rebuild the economy continue.

The homeless population is one of the groups that has been affected disproportionately by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter.

Shelters have been operating at partial capacity to abide by physical-distancing measures, and as a result, Nakuset said, some homeless people are left to their own devices.

“I’m very much hoping that they will consider new services, that they will find money to help,” Nakuset said of the governments, adding that front-line workers must be part of the planning.

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However, advocates fear cuts to services are on the way because governments have run up large financial deficits with emergency spending. The federal government has said Canada could see its deficit soar to $343 billion this year.

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Dolores Chew, a founding member Montreal’s South Asian Women’s Community Centre, said staff at community organizations are “burned out” enough as it is.

“They’re working from home, they’re getting stressful calls all the time,” Chew said.

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“People are panicked, they don’t know where to go, there are language issues and so we have been filling all these gaps.”

Global News reached out to the provincial government for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

The federal government told Global News it has put in place several initiatives to help Canadians through the pandemic, in addition the the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

“This is a challenging time for all Canadians, and the Government of Canada is taking immediate, significant and decisive actions to help Canadians facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak,” wrote Samuelle Carbonneau, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada.

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Carbonneau provided several examples such as the $350 million Emergency Community Support Fund to help charities and non-profits adapt their frontline services during the pandemic.

Another example is an investment of $157.5 million through the Reaching Home program to support organizations serving the homeless population.

“In response to COVID-19, the Government is continuing to explore a variety of potential shorter and longer-term policy responses that could address the ongoing needs of Canadians,” added Carbonneau.

A spokesperson for the City of Montreal said the administration has set up several initiatives to help the most vulnerable, such as contributing $1.3 million to Centraide’s emergency fund through donations made by a number of boroughs.

Read more: Coronavirus: Montreal boroughs donate more than $1M to Centraide emergency fund

In addition, the spokesperson said that the city’s economic relaunch will feature an “intersectional approach” in order to include the different needs of the population.

“Back in June, the mayor put in place an advisory committee on social solidarity that regroups people who are engaged and act on a daily basis to respond to several social issues that Montrealers are living through,” wrote Anik de Repentigny in an email to Global News.

The city says it is currently developing several sites to welcome the homeless population, including one at the old Royal-Victoria Hospital, a shelter located in eastern Montréal and a shelter for Indigenous people.

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“These sites, which should be able to welcome people by the end of August, will offer dozens of additional spaces to the homeless,” said Nathalie Goulet, City of Montreal executive committee member responsible for social inclusion, sports and recreation, the status of women, homelessness and youth.