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Amid a chronic shortage of beds, Montreal to open new, winter-only homeless shelter

For years, Montreal’s homeless advocacy groups have scrambled to find ways to keep the thousands of people on the city’s streets warm during winter, but some help finally appears to be on the way.

Rosannie Filato, the Montreal Executive Committee member responsible for homelessness confirmed a new homeless shelter will open in two weeks. The shelter will be bare bones, meant to provide only a place to sleep for those looking to get in from the cold, with no shower or meal facilities.

While several sites are being considered, the current favourite is the old Royal Victoria Hospital site.

“There’s for sure going to be an area that’s going to have around 80 beds for people in situations of homelessness. There’s going to be fewer restrictions. There’s going to be some rooms for people with animals,” she said, adding that a shuttle will be made available to the site. 

Filato said the decision came after a meeting with several managers of the city’s existing homeless shelters.

“What we were hearing is that despite the winter measures we put into place, they were at full capacity. Some of them had no more room, a lot of people who have animals, which are very important to people in situations of homelessness, didn’t have a place to sleep or a place to warm up.”

Earlier this month, a story about a homeless man’s dog freezing to death in the night sparked widespread outrage at the lack of resources for those on the streets who have pets.

The new location will be co-managed by four organizations: the Old Brewery Mission, Maison du Pere, Welcome Hall Mission and Accueil Bonneau.

OBM President and CEO Matthew Pearce said the new shelter came after years of asking the city and province for an additional facility.

“We told the city and the province, we can’t keep doing this because it’s not humane. It’s no way to help people move on in life when there’s such a dense mass of humanity inside our walls,” he said.

Pearce estimated that on any given night, there are 3,000 to 3,500 homeless on Montreal’s streets, but that throughout a year as many as 12,000 people might experience homelessness, even for a short period of time. He added that all of Montreal’s shelters combined only account for 1,000 beds.

“It’s going to go a long way. In the past, the OBM has opened its doors wide in winter and we’ve had people sleeping on the floor of the cafeteria. At times, we’ve had 80 people sleeping there… We think we can have a shelter that has these 80 beds and just gives them a place to sleep.”

Pearce wasn’t able to give a specific dollar amount as to the cost, but estimated it to be between $200,000 to $250,000, which will mostly go towards security, personnel, drivers and some other costs.

“Given the service it’s going to provide, we don’t think that’s a large price tag. We think that’s modest,” he said.

James Alexander McKinnon said he’s run into problems with some of Montreal’s current shelters. While he said the new shelter is a good idea, it doesn’t go far enough.

“I think they should have something like that all year round,” he said. “The Royal Vic ain’t too far. It’s huge. They could open up more than 80 beds. They could have residential, too.”