BY Ellie Swain|
Temperatures plummet in Montreal during the winter, which means it’s essential that officials bring the city’s homeless population safely inside. This is especially important during the pandemic when the chances of contracting COVID-19 are high.
Montreal officials have implemented a range of resources and measures to keep vulnerable people safe this winter. These measures include housing homeless people in hotels, opening warming stations, offering space to store items in storage lockers, and providing a shuttle bus to make services more accessible to homeless people.
Despite the introduction of these new measures, uncertainty is mounting. How will COVID-19 affect Montreal’s homeless population during the colder months?
While authorities cannot force homeless people to move indoors, Mayor Valérie Plante said Montreal is encouraging homeless people to use various services.
Teams are conducting outreach throughout Montreal to deliver information to homeless people about warming stations, overnight shelters, and available resources. One of their first stops was to the big encampments along Notre-Dame Street east of Downtown. Teams attempted to get people to move from the streets and store their camping equipment during the winter. Every homeless people was spoken to and told the various options available for staying safe this winter.
Shortly after, teams arrived again to help the encampment residents pack up their items and move them to temporary shelters. These temporary winter shelters include the Hotel Place Dupuis, where 380 hotel beds are available for those in need.
The Old Brewery Mission is teaming up with the city to help connect homeless people to resources. In the past, the organization used a van to move people from place to place. This year, a city bus called Solidaribus will operate 18 hours a day, seven days a week, to help. The bus was gifted by the city’s transit authority to support the mission.
With social workers on board to assist homeless people, the Solidaribus offers safe transportation for up to 100 people per night. The same shuttle bus service the mission has used for years will also run alongside it.
Due to the additional challenges brought on by the pandemic, authorities decided to use a second bus to connect people with resources and services this winter. The extra bus offers an essential service for thousands of vulnerable homeless people.
The Solidaribus keeps people socially distanced while bringing them to alternative accommodation and services that are safe and warm. When anybody requires a secure space to stay, the Solidaribus will pick them up and bring them inside. This will be especially useful during the chilly winter months when the metro has closed.
James Hughes, the mission’s president and CEO, said, “It’s our responsibility collectively to make sure we offer a place to everyone who wants one.”
Additionally, inspectors with Montreal’s transit authority, the STM, will traverse the Metro Network with police officers and social workers to link people to the appropriate services. It will also raise awareness of the realities of homelessness and the necessity to source sustainable solutions for improving it, like housing.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has worsened homelessness in Montreal. To help people remain safe, the city has provided multiple emergency solutions like moving homeless people into hotel rooms. It also relaxed camping rules during warmer months, allowing people to social distance in temporary tent encampments throughout the city.
As such, the stretch of green along Notre-Dame filled up with tents and new residents over the summer. Residents are now being encouraged to move indoors during the colder winter weather, but people are reluctant to move out. To address this issue, the city increased staff and streamlined resources, enhancing its social-housing reference service. With these changes, homeless people in need are accompanied when seeking an affordable place to live.
Interestingly, the isolation unit put in place for infected people was closed as it wasn’t being used. This illustrates Montreal’s success in coping with the first wave. It also provides positive insight for the upcoming winter months.
Montreal has been incredibly proactive in helping homeless people stay safe throughout the pandemic. With the introduction of new resources and services to help homeless people throughout the winter, the city should be able to remain practical and hands-on with its approach. While we must encourage people to seek warm shelter during the dangerously cold winter months, the best solution is providing permanent, affordable housing to all people. This will keep people safe from the cold and the pandemic.
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