Coronavirus vaccines on the way for homeless Montrealers, public health says

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Mayor Valérie Plante addresses homeless situation in Montreal amid curfew' Coronavirus: Mayor Valérie Plante addresses homeless situation in Montreal amid curfew
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on Wednesday discussed the city's plan to deal with the homeless population during a time when a curfew exists. Plante said there are 136 spots available in shelters and they're working to create 150 more across the city. Plante said the job of the police enforcing the curfew need to exercise "tolerance and humanity." – Jan 13, 2021

As the health crisis deepens, some of Montreal’s homeless population will be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, the city’s public health director, announced the measure during an update Wednesday on the progressing second wave amid rising COVID-19 cases among those who live on the streets.

There have been 172 cases since the beginning of December 2020 among homeless Montrealers and the workers who help them, she said. There are currently eight active outbreaks and an epidemiological investigation is underway.

“These outbreaks are difficult to control,” she said.

When it comes to vaccination, Drouin didn’t provide an exact number but said doses will be given to a “small group” of homeless people starting this week.

“At this time, with the small number of doses we have to use them cautiously,” she said.

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Read more: Montreal homeless shelters say clients, workers need access to vaccine as COVID-19 cases spike

As part of the plan, the city’s public health department is also ramping up screening efforts among the homeless population to curb the spread of the virus.

Quebec’s vaccination campaign has been centred on two priority groups: residents in long-term care homes and the health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

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But four major organizations devoted to fighting homelessness in Montreal issued a plea this week to secure doses for people who live on the street and the workers who assist them.

The Old Brewery Mission, Welcome Hall Mission, Maison du Père and Accueil Bonneau have called on the province and protect the homeless. Their clients are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 because shelters are packed and some individuals already suffer from complex medical issues, according to the group.

James Hughes, president and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission, told Global News on Tuesday that vaccination is crucial to preventing the spread of the virus and increasing the capacity of shelters through winter.

Curfew concerns

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante addressed concerns about the province’s nightly curfew, which bars Quebecers from leaving their homes from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. until Feb. 8.

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The measure, which was introduced over the weekend, is part of Quebec’s restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. But it has raised concerns on how the curfew will be enforced when it comes to those who are homeless.

Plante said police officers “are quite aware of the complexity of what it means of being on the street.” They need, she added, to exercise “tolerance and humanity.”

“The curfew is not there to make people more vulnerable more than they already are,” she said.

Montreal police said Monday they stopped 122 homeless people in relation to the curfew, but only gave one ticket during an arrest that was related to drugs.

Click to play video 'Police hand out hundreds of tickets in Quebec within first 48 hours of curfew' Police hand out hundreds of tickets in Quebec within first 48 hours of curfew
Police hand out hundreds of tickets in Quebec within first 48 hours of curfew – Jan 11, 2021
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With files from Global News’ Dan Spector