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Old Royal Victoria Hospital will be converted into a resource for Montreal’s homeless population

Click to play video 'Helping the homeless find homes in Montreal' Helping the homeless find homes in Montreal
Before COVID-19 hit, homeless shelters in Montreal were overflowing, now with job losses and bed closures, Montreal's homeless shelters are preparing for an overwhelming need as the weather starts to change.

The Ross Pavillion of the Old Royal Victoria Hospital is becoming a 24/7 resource for Montreal’s homeless population — the shelter will be dedicated to helping men and women get back into housing.

Global News has learned the city and community groups it is working with are expected to make a joint announcement on Thursday.

The location, which has acted as an emergency shelter in past winters, was an isolation centre for homeless people who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year.

“It’s important that we not just try to respond to a crisis, but that we actually start building pathways back into housing for people who need housing,” said Welcome Hall Mission CEO Sam Watts.

Read more: Montreal homeless advocates sound alarm as makeshift camps continue to appear around city

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The initiative comes as people are pitching tents in a green space in the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve because they say they have nowhere else to live. Now they say the city is forcing them to leave the space on Notre-Dame East by the end of August.

“We’re supposed to be pushed out here the 31st,” said urban camper Guylain Levasseur.

In a written statement to Global News, city spokesperson Linda Boutin said living in a tent is not a viable solution in the long term, nor is it safe.

Boutin said the city is working with each individual to direct them to the appropriate resources.

“We work with these people with respect, dignity, tolerance and in consultation with local community organizations, the health network and the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough,” she said.

Boutin also pointed to a new shelter that will be opened in the city’s east end in the near future, saying an announcement is forthcoming.

Levasseur said the city is encouraging the group of 30 to 40 people to move to a shelter, but he argued shelters aren’t for everyone.

“I know they want to offer beds in the shelter but some people don’t (want to) feel stacked like a sardine, they want their freedom,” he said.

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Read more: Montreal races to create more shelters for homeless people amid coronavirus crisis

While advocates say increasing the number of shelter beds and specialized resources may work for most homeless people, the most effective long-term solution is to provide housing.

“Without social housing as a real answer to this puzzle we’re not going anywhere,” said Old Brewery Mission social housing director Georges Ohana. “We’re simply going into a dishwasher of in and out, but it’s not making a real difference.”

In order to make a beneficial difference, they are asking private landlords and all levels of government for help.

“We can get people housed and we can keep them in housing, we can do that at the community level,” said Watts. “But if we don’t have housing stock available to us, whether it’s private or social housing, it’s going to be difficult for us to get the job done.”

— With files from Global’s Annabelle Olivier