Quebec’s coroner’s office confirmed on Friday it will be looking into the death of a woman who was believed to be homeless and found unresponsive near the Berri-UQAM metro on Thursday morning.
Urgences-santé paramedics were called to the scene at around 1:20 a.m.
Spokesperson Sébastien Coulumbe said the woman, in her 60s, was in cardiorespiratory arrest.
Attempts to revive her failed and she was pronounced dead at the scene, Coulombe said.
Coulombe said the victim is believed to have been experiencing homelessness.
“From what I understand she was a homeless person and she was well known apparently in this area as a homeless woman who used to wander around,” he said.
Without giving specific details, he said people experiencing homelessness often wear multiple layers of clothing, and have sleeping bags nearby, to guard against the cold.
Weather data collected by Environment Canada show Windchill values hovering at -12 C after midnight.
The woman’s death is the second one to hit the homeless community in just two weeks.
On Jan. 10, a 74-year-old man was found in a makeshift camp between Saint-Jacques Street and Highway 20 in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. He later died in hospital.
The coroner is also investigating his death.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called the woman’s death “tragic” and “unfortunate.”
She made the comments during an inauguration ceremony on Friday for Projets autochtones Québec’s (PAQ) new 50-bed shelter catering to Montreal’s Idigenous community.
Plante stressed, however, that the circumstances surrounding the woman’s death are not yet known.
She also said the city is doing what it can, and working with community organizations, the Health Ministry and the Quebec government to address the issue.
The city can do things like find the physical space for new or emergency shelters, but ultimately Plante said the responsibility for an overarching strategy on homelessness falls under the purview of the provincial government.
“We’re doing everything we can do as fast as we can based on the needs that are being expressed to us,” she said.
Plante said there are currently 1,900 spots in shelters and that police and shuttles run by community groups have been patrolling the city nightly to make sure people aren’t left out in the cold.
Nakuset, the director of the Women’s Native Shelter, says while there might be resources available in terms of more beds, they have to be located in close proximity to where they are needed.
“If you’re in a particular area and you have to go across town, you’re not gonna go,” she said. “You may not have money, you may not have the motivation to go, I’m not exactly sure but when it’s really far people don’t go.”
She said during the first waves of the pandemic services could be found near the Berri metro area.
“There was a warming tent as well as a hotel across the street. So these are two crucial services that were needed,” Nakuset said. “Now we’re on the fifth wave with less resources and that’s really hard to understand how we haven’t learned from the past.”
Nakuset and other advocates are calling for metro stations to remain open during cold nights.
While Plante didn’t rule it out completely, she said it wasn’t an ideal solution.
“It’s a better approach to bring people in a shelter where it’s warm, where you have some food, where you have people with you, where you have some privacy and just bathrooms and stuff like that.”
Heather Johnston, the executive director of PAQ, agreed with Plante that the metro is no substitute for the services one can get in a shelter but it could be worth keeping some stations open in areas that are frequented by those experiencing homelessness.
“So I would think that that would really be a last resort solution. I am not convinced you could provide good services or necessarily keep people safe,” she said. “But if you could and it could prevent a death, than yes, maybe some downtown metro stations should be open overnight on the coldest nights of the year.”
Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning for the Montreal area for Friday, with overnight Windchill values of -38 to -40 C expected.
— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez