A 74-year-old homeless man died Monday evening in Montreal when very cold weather hit the region.
Montreal police responded to a call about a man possibly suffering from hypothermia. The man lived in a camp between Saint-Jacques Street and Highway 20, in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
The man was transferred to a hospital where he was declared dead.
The cold weather is a major concern for those who work with the homeless population, as plunging temperatures increase the risk of spending the night outside.
The file was turned over to the coroner’s office.
“Homelessness is growing, and we have advised governments in writing that we need more capacity in this regard. While they’ve gone a certain way, they haven’t gone far enough. And this winter we’re seeing the results of that,” said Old Brewery Mission president and CEO James Hughes.
Montreal’s mayor, Valerie Plante, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that nobody has to be in the cold, arguing that there are enough places in shelters.
“He’s had his little settlement and didn’t want to get into bigger resources. A place where he would have been warm and safe,” she said, referring to the deceased individual.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, who announced his resignation on Monday evening as national director of public health in Quebec, had earlier in the evening asked organizations that help homeless people to ignore COVID-19 for the next few nights.
Arruda asked the shelters to open their dormitories “according to the capacity established before the pandemic … regardless of the status of the outbreak of the environment.”
This message was well-received in the community, with shelters already on high alert as the temperature in the Montreal area dropped.
But after hearing about the third homeless person to die outside in the past two years in Montreal, community leaders say unfortunately it doesn’t come as a surprise.
“It will continue to happen unless we create long term housing and social housing and low income housing for vulnerable populations,” said Open Door Centre coordinator John Tessier.
Plante agrees that more permanent measures need to be created and the city is working to open more social housing. But she added there needs to be action from the provincial government.
“The government of Quebec did not contribute new money for two years and it shows. It shows right now. Even for people who want to build social housing there’s no more money to do it,” said Plante.
In response a spokesperson for Quebec’s housing minister tells Global News the province has transferred more than $4 billion dollars to the City of Montreal’s housing projects since 2018.
Instead of passing the buck, advocates say it should be everyone’s responsibility.
— With files from Global’s Olivia O’Malley