MONTREAL -- Several women’s shelters in Montreal say they remain unaware of the details of how the federal government plans to help them cope with the influx of women and children fleeing domestic violence in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have not been made aware of this. We are already at capacity at the shelter and have a waiting list,” Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, told CTV News. “We are expected to stay open and have less staff, as some must self-isolate.”

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated he intends to support some of the country’s most vulnerable populations through these uncertain times.

The federal government said it was committed to “providing up to $50 million to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help with their capacity to manage or prevent an outbreak in their facilities. This includes funding for facilities in Indigenous communities.”


Melpa Kamateros, executive director of Shield of Athena, told CTV News she too has yet to be told what form this financial assistance could take.

“It’s about time, but I mean at this point, aside from putting victims of conjugal violence up in hotels, which was an option they were discussing, at the shelters, it's sort of like a Catch 22,” she said. “It’s part of the vicious cycle of the lack of resources.”

Kamateros pointed out, even before the pandemic hit, there was a lack of space in the shelters. Now, the greater problem is that many women are stuck in their homes with their alleged abusers.

“People are together for lengthier periods of time, which means that the mode of escape or fleeing is not that possible,” she explained. “A lot of women can be caught in situations of violence and they're not allowed to leave their home.”

Though she applauded the government for offering money to help the shelters, she says it’s almost too little, too late.

“Yeah, money is coming, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, we will put it to good use, but it took a pandemic to get it,” she lamented. “We don't know if this pandemic is going to translate to an increase in homicides.”

At Shield of Athena, she added, it’s all hands on deck as workers make sure to follow proper hygiene protocols to keep everyone safe.

“We are the lifeline. We can't close. We cannot,” she told CTV News. “I won't hide it from you, in terms of mental anxiety, it’s really high, but we have to keep a brave face because if we fall down, what does it mean for the women and children who are victims of conjugal violence, who are fleeing for their lives?”


In an effort not to have too many women congregating together, officials at Chez Doris said they can only focus on helping homeless women right now.

“Our mission is to provide day shelter services. We are currently seeing women who sleep outside, at bank machines, at the Royal Victoria overflow shelter,” said Marina Boulos-Winton, the centre’s executive director. “While I have heard of this [Trudeau’s] announcement, I have not seen any instructions on how to apply, so I do not know the parameters.”

She added Chez Doris is working to take care of its vulnerable population, while also enforcing strict hygiene protocols in collaboration with public health authorities to avoid inviting COVID-19 into its shelter.

Stress on these organizations is also mounting after the overflow shelter at the Royal Victoria Hospital was dismantled on Tuesday.

The 44 beds designated for women will now be at the YMCA Centre-Ville and the 100 beds for men will be at the Complexe Guy-Favreau.

Nakuset insisted this movement of beds means shelters around the city will surely fill up soon, and any plans the federal government has to help those in need must be disseminated quickly.