With COVID-19 outbreaks pushing Montreal homeless shelters to the brink, the city unveiled a new resource Thursday it believes will help relieve the pressure.
For the second winter in a row, a soccer stadium in the northeast part of the city is being converted into a massive shelter exclusively for those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“When there’s a call coming from the health network about finding a place for people dealing with the COVID from the homeless population, we’re always ready,” Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said after touring the facility.
The stadium on Papineau Avenue is now being used as an isolation site for people suffering from the virus and has 300 beds. It will be run by the Red Cross and the Old Brewery Mission.
“It came together at light speed,” said James Hughes, the CEO of the Old Brewery Mission.
With the city in the midst of an extreme cold snap and dozens of shelters facing outbreaks among both staff and clients, something needed to be done to separate those with COVID-19 from the others.
“The dangers of isolating in a shelter are that it spreads like a fire in a forest,” said Hughes.
The Chrome Hotel in downtown Montreal was being used to house the sick, but its 150 beds filled quickly.
Less than a week after advocates called for help, the soccer stadium is equipped and ready to go.
“These are the same cots we used during the floods that we had a few years ago, same cots that we used when the Syrians arrived a few years ago, the same cots that we use in disaster situations. Now they’re being used for the homeless,” said Pascal Mathieu, Quebec vice-president of the Red Cross.
In addition to the beds, the shelter has a cafeteria and a sitting area with a TV. The stadium was also used as a shelter last year.
“It gives more room and flexibility in the existing shelters that are dealing with so much and doing miracles with so little,” said Plante.
Homeless people who test positive at shelters or in emergency rooms will be shuttled to the facility or given taxi tickets to get there.
The stadium becomes operational just days after a 74-year-old homeless man living outside froze to death in NDG-Cote-des-Neiges, the third to die in the cold in the past year.
The mayor said in spite of the best efforts of community organizations, some will always refuse to leave the streets.
“We can’t force someone to leave the streets,” she said.
Hughes feels more can always be done to convince people to come inside.
“Do we invest enough in those relationships? I would say to you that we don’t,” he told Global News.
There is no set timeline for how long the stadium will house the homeless population, with those responsible only saying it will be used in this capacity as long as it’s needed.