MONTREAL -- An event to commemorate the life of Raphaël André was held in Montreal’s Cabot Square Friday at Espace Raphael-André, a warming tent erected during the winter to provide shelter and food to those experiencing homelessness.

André’s family attended the event, along with Indigenous leaders who made an urgent call to the city to allow the tent to remain open.

The warming tent was erected following the death of André, an Innu man whose body was found frozen in January near the shelter where he'd been keeping warm during the day, but which was closed at night on public health's request.

His death made headlines across the country as people demanded better access to services for homeless people during the pandemic.

The tent, which opened on February 2, serves approximately 700 people each week.

People living on the street can warm up and take shelter in the tent. Food and coffee is also available.

It was organized by the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal with support from the city as well as individual donors.

However, since the tent has been operational, the city repeatedly imposed and extended deadlines for when it must come down.

Organizers say that before the tent can be removed, resources for those without homes are needed.

Among them was Raphaël André’s family, who travelled by road from Schefferville, a community more than 1,000 kilometres away, to attend the ceremony.

“Like most Indigenous people who are homeless in large cities, Raphael had much suffering to overcome,” said Carmen André on behalf of André’s family in a news release.

“We send out a cry from the heart to ensure that services adapted to people experiencing homelessness and from Aboriginal communities continue on an ongoing basis.”

“It is our collective responsibility as a society, both the Indigenous communities who have supported this initiative from the start, as well as government and municipal partners, to ensure that these people have access to services adapted to our culture and their specific needs,” added Jean-Charles Pietacho, Chief of the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit.

“If nothing is done and no place is permanently available to them, they will have no choice but to stay on the streets and try to survive by other means.”