Inuk elder found dead after seeking shelter at construction site near Cabot Square
MONTREAL -- There are renewed calls for better resources for the city's homeless population after Inuk elder Elisapee Pootoogook was found dead Saturday morning at a condo construction site on René Lévesque Boulevard and Atwater Avenue, near Cabot Square.
Following a 911 call around 8:30 a.m., paramedics arrived on the scene and confirmed that Pootoogook, 61, had passed away.
Pootoogook had a “charming way about her and a real personality,” said David Chapman, director of Resilience Montreal, a non-profit group that supports the homeless population near Cabot Square.
“It’s tragic things ended the way they did,” he said.
Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter, learned about what happened yesterday morning and said it marked the start of a bad day.
“I spent most of the day crying and reaching out to community members,” Nakuset said.
“Elisapee came to Montreal for medical services, from a community that didn't have the expertise, the hospitals, equipment -- so she came to Montreal for that," she said.
A police investigation has determined that no criminal activity was involved in the woman's death, according to a spokesperson from the SPVM.
WOMAN SOUGHT SHELTER AT METRO STATION BUT WAS KICKED OUT
But the way her life ended has Chapman and others asking, why in “modern Canada” does a frail woman in her 60s have to die looking for shelter at a construction site where condos are selling for millions of dollars.
Chapman said Pootoogook had sought shelter, as she often did, in the Atwater metro station before being kicked out by security. The unfinished condo structure offered warmth and a dry place to lay her head.
“We know that during COVID the policy is for public health to tighten who can be in the metro,” he said, making it even more difficult for people to find a safe place to sleep at night.
“To put it bluntly, there is a shortage of shelter space for people who are intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol and that needs to change quickly. If it doesn’t more people will die,” said Chapman.
A memorial service will be held on Monday in Cabot Square. People who knew her are being asked to "bring stories and flowers" to celebrate the "kind and gentle soul."
'WE NEED TO DO BETTER AS A SOCIETY'
Pootoogook's death happened as advocates were meeting with the city Tuesday to ask that the Raphael Memorial tent located in the square be permitted to remain as the winter weather arrives.
The tent was erected following a similar death of a homeless person -- Raphaël André, an Indigenous man. He was found dead near the steps of a homeless shelter in February.
The Raphael Andre Memorial Tent has welcomed thousands of Montreal's homeless but was slated to close on Dec. 1, 2021, due to lack of funding. It has stayed open primarily from private donations and from city permitting.
Serving about 300 people per day, advocates want the tent to remain open during the coming winter. The Native Women's Shelter told CTV that it will be able to stay open until March 31 provided that the workers there can fundraise for the money it needs.
“When those condos are finished the people that look out into the park are going to see the homeless that are suffering,” said Nakuset.
“You have to wonder at what point do we do better as a society, she said.”
Chapman has fond memories of Pootoogook, particularly the times he would lend her his phone so she could call relatives in the north.
“She'd be singing lullabies to grandkids over my phone in the metro,” he said.
Pootoogook's case has been transferred to the coroner's office.
With files from CTV News' Iman Kassam.