Three new temporary homeless shelters capable of housing more than 300 of the city’s most vulnerable will be opening in Montreal, with the ultimate aim of helping people get off the streets for good.
Chantal Menard said she has been homeless for decades, mostly laying down her head in Montreal’s shelters. Lately, she’s been living at the old Royal Victoria Hospital.
“You know, this place is like a castle,” she said.
This past winter, the Old Vic was transformed into an overflow shelter. During the pandemic, it became an isolation centre for homeless people who tested positive for COVID-19.
“There weren’t that many infections that happened in the homeless community. So we had a facility here that was operating that had a large number of medical staff in it, but no clients,” said Sam Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission.
Now, it’s been transformed into 24/7 housing, with about 200 beds that people can sleep in as long as they need.
“The idea behind it is that we’re able to care for people and help them get back on their feet and get into housing,” Watts said. The Welcome Hall Mission will run the new operation at the old Royal Victoria, along with the Old Brewery Mission and the Maison du Père.
Fifty beds are also coming to Complexe Guy-Favreau downtown for Indigenous and Inuit communities, to be administered by Projets Autochtones du Québec.
There will also be another 65 beds at the old YMCA in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, to be run by CAP Saint-Barnabé and CARE Montreal.
“Ultimately, what we want is a room for everyone here in Montreal and in our society,” Mayor Valérie Plante said. “I think we’re definitely seeing that COVID has changed how we see precariousness.”
During the pandemic, arenas and other public spaces were taken over to offer emergency shelter for the homeless, but soon, those spaces will have to go back to their original uses.
“Why not put together a project that answers the needs that exist, which is housing, and that respond to the potential for a second wave?” Watts said.
The Royal Vic shelter boasts a floor for men, another for women, and one just for those who have COVID-19 or are waiting for the result of a test.
After a few weeks at the Royal Vic, an empowered Menard is getting ready to move out.
“You feel more loved, because when you’re rejected and you’re thrown out in the cold — well, it’s like death,” she said.
Meanwhile, the city said it is in the midst of negotiations with people living in the homeless camp on Notre-Dame, which is set to be dismantled next week.
“We’re not going to burn any tents. That it is not the plan at all,” Plante said. “We’ve never acted this way and we’re not going to start now. We will accompany everyone.”
Benoit Langevin, the critic for homeless issues at the official opposition and a Pierrefonds city councillor, applauded Thursday’s announcement, but accused the Plante government of forgetting about other parts of the island.
“We can question why isn’t there any strategies for the North? Why isn’t there any strategies for the West Island? I mean, for years we’ve been saying in the West Island that there is a need,” Langevin told Global News.
He also criticized the fact the shelters will only be in place until March 31.
It is unclear whether the city plans to re-evaluate the need for the three shelters come springtime.