MONTREAL -- A shelter’s decision to lay off 11 workers last week came as a shock, and now the workers and clients are regrouping to voice concerns, including in a demonstration Wednesday.

Richard Laire is one client at Accueil Bonneau, which is running a temporary COVID-19 “warming centre” in the Old Port, in a big tent.

He said that after the layoff of 11 front-line workers, the tent is staffed only by security guards.

“Sometimes we just need a shoulder to cry on, but they’re not there for that,” said Laire on Wednesday, meaning the security guards.

One of those who used to give him emotional support was Mathilde Laforge, one of those who was laid off.

“We've been telling them again and again that we needed more staff here,” she said, “and what they hear of that is that we couldn't do our jobs properly, so they just laid us off.”

But the director of Accueil Bonneau is defending the decision. She says the workers aren’t being replaced with security guards, as the union is claiming. Rather, she’s calling the move a shift in priorities.

“I know that the decision that Acceuil Bonneau has made is difficult, but the world is changing, homelessness is changing, and our response to homelessness has to change. And so that's what this is about,” Crossling told CTV News.

She said the temporary warming station, which receives about 350 homeless people each day, no longer needs as many front-line workers as it did.

What it does need is to put people in social housing, she said.

She says the shelter is aggressively trying to make that happen, and its efforts are paying off: on Tuesday alone, her team placed six people into housing, she said.

“That is a direct result of this decision,” she said.

“We don't want to get rid of people, we don't want to fire people, but we're realigning how we do our work. It will actually be more effective in getting people off the street.”

Laforge says she doesn’t see the logic, since part of her job was also to help find her clients social housing.

The union, the CSN, met with Accueil Bonneau management and an arbitrator over a request to reverse the decision, and it expects to hear back in the coming days.

Watch Iman Kassam's television report in the video above.