MONTREAL -- A group of community leaders representing the poor gathered on Wednesday to warn that, though there will be an inevitably huge deficit resulting from COVID-19, who shoulders that burden is a matter of choice.

Canada's and Montreal's most vulnerable should not pay an outsize price, say these community groups, who have been serving those most in need throughout the pandemic.

They say more help should be given to marginalized people and not to large corporations.

“We are here today to demand that our governments do not once again pander to powerful economic and corporate interests at the expense of the racialized, vulnerable and marginalized,” said the South Asian Women’s Community Centre’s Dolores Chew.

“Our communities are already suffering under the COVID-19 situation.”

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, says more help is needed for those living in the streets.

“When COVID hit and the government and the health professionals said 'Stay in your home and be safe,' it was a message that the homeless population could not participate in," she said.

Many shelters and organizations closed down when the pandemic hit, making life even more difficult for the homeless.

“They have had to live outside in the cold 24/7, and now they’re battling the heat and the rain and the elements and it really is demoralizing,” Nakuset said.

A Statistics Canada survey released in July found that the pandemic was having a disproportionate effect on different groups. For example, people of colour are feeling deeper financial effects -- in particular, 42 per cent of Filipino-Canadians and 47 per cent of West Asian-Canadians have lost jobs or had work hours reduced, compared to 34 per cent of white participants.

The same groups that were most affected were the same ones that had the fewest resources to weather the storm.

Women experiencing poverty or violence are also disproportionately hard-hit by the pandemic, another national study found, because of the lack of a big enough safety net for them, including shelter beds.

Women's homelessness is often "invisible," the study pointed out, and only now have a new set of extreme conditions forced many of them into a new level of precarity.

While the federal government has vastly expanded various forms of assistance to citizens during the pandemic, of course, authorities haven't spoken much about their plans for pre-existing social programs or how they intend to tackle the deficit once the worst of the pandemic is through.

-- With files from Brooklyn Neustaeter and The Canadian Press