Montreal has settled on a short-term solution to overcrowding in Montreal's homeless shelters: the former Royal Victoria Hospital site.

The shuttered hospital will become a shelter with 80 beds from Jan. 15 to April 15.

The decision comes as overcrowding has reached a crisis point, says Matthew Pearce, director of the Old Brewery Mission.

On any given night, there are 3,000 to 3,500 homeless on Montreal’s streets, but throughout a year as many as 12,000 people might experience homelessness, even for a short time. Montreal’s shelters combined only account for 1,000 beds.

Pearce says the conditions in the shelters on some nights in the past few weeks are unhygienic and inhumane due to sheer volume. On some nights, the Old Brewery Mission has scrambled to provide beds by putting mattresses on the floor of the cafeteria.

It has been a particularly difficult start to the season for Montreal's shelters because of the early cold, he said.

The Royal Vic will be made available as of Jan. 15 for this winter season alone as four shelters work together to provide security on site and a shuttle service.

It’s essential these extra beds be temporary, said Pearce, because the focus should be getting people off the streets.

A report on the city's homeless is due out in January, and Pearce suspects the number of homeless Montrealers is on the rise.

“The perniciousness ness of the drugs that are on the streets these days can lock people into homelessness. These are people who have made bad decisions, maybe, about drugs, but we have to understand that they have a whole life history behind them that maybe brought them to that place in the first place,” he said.

Mental illness remains a primary driver of homelessness, he added.

“About 40 per cent of homeless people in Montreal have a mental illness. What other illness would we allow people to end up on the streets?” he said.

Donations in the form of money and clothing are always welcome, said Pearce.

  • For more, watch the interview with Matthew Pearce above