Montrealers experiencing homelessness are about to lose warming stations they’ve had for months.
With the weather getting warmer, the stations are expected to close April 30. One is at Cabot Square on Ste-Catherine Street, where community workers say the demand has been high.
“They’ve recorded 4,599 visits through the time that the tent has been open,” said David Chapman, executive director of Resilience Montreal, a day shelter serving much of the city’s Indigenous homeless population.
The organization runs the station, which has been open since February, so homeless individuals can seek shelter from the elements.
“In the tent there’s approximately 16 lounge chairs where people will recline, rest during the evenings,” Chapman said.
Many get a meal and some get help from social workers, and according to Chapman, the closure will be a problem.
“It means that the folks that have been staying here every night will need to find another place,” he told Global News. “That will be definitely a question mark.”
Because of the pandemic, shelters are operating at reduced capacity to avoid crowding and some people who are homeless had no place to keep warm. That’s why the tent and other temporary warming stations were set up.
“The idea, the concept was that it was more of an in and out,” said James Hughes, president and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission. “Thirty minutes, have a soup, meet with a councillor and then back out.”
Since Cabot Square is a common meeting spot for people experiencing homelessness, especially those who are Indigenous, a station was put there. It’s named for Raphael Napa André, an Innu man whose body was found inside a portable toilet overnight in January.
Hughes believes that although vaccinations have gone very well among the homeless population, closing the stations now is a bad idea, and he worries about COVID-19 variants.
“When they close on April 30 that means some more people are going to be wandering around,” he said. “We’ve seen dozens and dozens of people get COVID over the last little while.”
He and other advocates are worried that the closing of the warming stations will lead to a new spike in cases of COVID-19 among those looking for warmth and shelter.
Community workers at Cabot Square are asking the City of Montreal to keep the station open longer. In a statement, the city told Global News it is working on resources in the Cabot Square area for the homeless population.