Cabot Square warming tent, which shelters, feeds dozens of homeless Montrealers, to close by May 1
MONTREAL -- The warming tent that has called Cabot Square home since February will close in a week and advocates warn that there is nothing set to fill its role serving Montreal's homeless community.
The news of the imminent closure was first reported by Ricochet and was confirmed to CTV News by Native Women's Shelter of Montreal executive director Nakuset, who was one of the tent project's organizers.
The tent was named in honour of Raphael Andre, a homeless Innu man who froze to death in January near a homeless shelter on Park Ave. that had temporarily closed at night due to COVID-19 restrictions. Nakuset noted that the tent was originally only supposed to be up for two weeks, but that extensions were continuously negotiated and that the money that kept the tent running was privately donated.
“I was able to raise about $187,000 so we can pay the staff. There are certain staff that are from Quebec City that are still here so I'm still paying their hotel rooms,” she said. “All the different salaries, all the food, all the costs that are involved... As the needs of the park changed, so did the price to it.”
Data kept by the shelter showed that its use has not declined, despite the warming weather. Throughout February, the tent would receive anywhere from 24 to 60 visitors who came to warm up or have a meal, with as many as 21 people sleeping in the tent at night. The data showed that 15 people were sleeping in the tent every night so far in April until the 17th, the last day for which data was availalbe, with daily visits usually in the low to mid-80s.
Nakuset noted that some of the peaks have come when other shelters have had to close for reasons such as a COVID-19 outbreak, but that doesn't lessen the impact the tent has had. She noted the tent is the only homeless resource in the area, which is especially popular with Indigenous members of the homeless population.
“When there are no other places available, people will come,” she said. “There's a lot of First Nations that show up that feel this is really their tent... People don't want to be displaced, they don't want to go to the other side of the city to find shelter.”
A project is underway to buy a building near Cabot Square that will be turned into a permanent homeless centre, backed by both private foundations and the federal and provincial governments but an opening date has yet to be announced.
Nakuset said she had a conversation last week with Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante where she stressed the need for a permanent homeless shelter near Cabot Square.
In an email to CTV News, a spokesperson for Mayor Valerie Plante said the city had worked “tirelessly, within the limits of its powers to support any project that promotes the health, safety and quality of life of people experiencing homelessness,” but did not answer questions specific to Cabot Square. The spokesperson said more details on that specific location would be made available on Monday.
Nakuset said it's her belief that if the city wants to, a new shelter in the area could be opened quickly.
“I opened (day centre) Resilience very quickly. This was almost two years ago, but they decided in June they would put forward an initiative and we opened Resilience in November,” she said. “It took six months go open it. If (the City of Montreal) has already found a designated building around the Cabot Square area, that's half the battle.”