MONTREAL -- Downtown Montreal now has a 24/7 shelter for homeless women.

As of Tuesday, Chez Doris, which has offered programs for women in need for over 40 years as a day centre, will also offer 18 beds and 16 resting chairs.

In a statement, Chez Doris administration said 2020 has been a particularly difficult year for homeless women, with the day centre having served a 637 women between March 17 and Oct. 31, a record number.

"You can't go to a library, they're closed. You can't go to a shopping centre, you can't sit down, you can't go to a 24-hour coffee shop because you can't sit in there, so there really is nowhere to go," said Marina Boulos-Winton, the executive director of Chez Doris.

They added that staff have observed an increase in the number of drug overdoses as well as in violence towards women, especially those with an Indigenous background.

Funding for the expanded hours is coming from the Makivik Corporation, which is dedicated to helping Quebec's Inuit population, as well as the federal Reaching Home program.

Along with the beds, Chez Doris will continue offering its other services, which include three meals per day, access to showers and hygienic products, a clothing depot, a financial management program, housing program and health and mental health services, among others.  

It's a tricky juggling act to respect public health protocols like distancing and still provide those services, said Boulos-Winton.

“We're going to be asking women to leave at 7:30 in the morning for an hour and come back if they want because there's not enough room to move everything around to clean,” she said.

Boulos-Winton said women are at risk of being victimized on the streets, especially at night, and there are not enough beds available in Montreal to meet to the need.

A quarter of homeless people in the city are women, but they only have access to 10 per cent of shelter beds. 

Last month the city opened an emergency shelter in a downtown hotel with nearly 400 beds, but only 40 are for women – and many don't feel comfortable staying in the same building that shelters men, said Boulos-Winton.

“I think it's preferable to have centres where it's completely dedicated just to women so that they really feel safe,” she said.

Chez Doris said plans to keep offering beds until late March or longer if it can raise enough funds over the holidays.