Outreach workers left scrambling after Montreal reverses decision to keep metro open for homeless

The homeless population was allowed to take shelter inside several Montreal metro stations on Monday night due to extreme cold temperatures. File / Global News

An outreach worker with Montreal’s homeless population says he and his colleagues were left scrambling when they found out the metro would not be open on Tuesday night for those who needed shelter like they were told.

Emmanuel Cree who works with non-profit REZO says he was doing outreach work in the metro, talking to the homeless population when he found out from STM workers that the metro would not be open that night and that the city had revised the plan that afternoon.

“The STM agent told me that the decision was actually cancelled and all the stations were going to be closed for the night,” Cree said.

“It’s mostly a communication issue.”

Cree says he and his colleagues were not informed of this change by the city.

“Our bosses tried to get both the city and public health people just to have a confirmation,” he said.

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For Cree, it meant he had to re-trace their steps to find those he had already informed, so they wouldn’t be left out in the cold.

Read more: Freezing temperatures likely caused death of Montreal homeless man

This lack of communication he says, is especially tough during times like these, when shelters are operating at reduced capacity due to Omicron outbreaks and temperatures are excruciatingly cold.

On Monday night, a 74-year-old homeless man was found outside in NDG, when very cold weather hit the region.

“We’re not able to get proper information and in these freezing times and nights, it’s pretty crucial to be able to tell someone exactly where they’re going to be able to stay warm,” Cree said.

“It’s a sense of panic, I’d say. And not knowing what you’re able to do.”

A spokesperson for Montreal Public Health told Global News the city is responsible for communicating any measures or changes.

“We are opening a soccer stadium to house the homeless with 320 extra spots, just like last year. We are in constant communication with our community partners and the city on this file,” wrote Jean Nicolas Aubé.

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“Everyone is working on it. The situation is evolving.”

Read more: More staff needed for possible COVID-19 isolation facilities for Montreal’s homeless

Meanwhile, the city said it’s in constant dialogue with community organizations and the health network.

“We are working with them in order to identify places and they are the first to be informed once we deploy any new resources,” said Marikym Gaudreault, a spokesperson for the city in an email.

Gaudreault said that all people who were located overnight on Monday in the metro were transported to a warming station in the Plateau-Mont-Royal.

Read more: Montreal homeless shelters fear COVID-19 crisis as cases rise, temperatures drop

In addition, people were pointed towards resources that were secure with specialized social workers and told that the metro is not a place that’s adapted to the homeless population’s needs.

“Places that were dignified and safe are favoured always and the metro is a solution that needs to be used only as a last resort. Necessary locations have been made available to the health network and community organizations,” Gaudreault wrote.

As for Cree, he believes that more resources and better organization could help avoid situations like these every winter.

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“Every year it’s like everyone is surprised winter is happening,” Cree said. “The city and the state are organizing crises instead of having a long-term vision.”

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