Outdoor homeless shelters leave advocates doubting city's COVID-19 strategy
Published Saturday, March 28, 2020 8:22PM EDT Last Updated Saturday, March 28, 2020 11:02PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Montreal's day shelters for the homeless are trying a new strategy as they struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outdoor shelters are being set up in several locations as part of an effort to keep the virus from spreading. On Saturday, city workers prepared tents for the homeless population in Place-Emilie-Gamelin, while a similar site was already up and running in Cabot Square. Along with tents, hand washing stations and portable toilets were put in place. Three other sites have also been designated, with the city saying they hope to accommodate up to 1,000 people.
Montreal Executive Committee member Rosannie Filato said the strategy does come with drawbacks.
“We'll be able to respect all the protocols in place but it's something that might not be perfect from the very beginning,” she said.
Native Women's Shelter of Montreal executive director Nakuset said she has her doubts about the plan's effectiveness.
“It's not really conducive to social distancing because it looks like you could put four people under a tent,” she said. “I have no idea what their vision was.”
City workers put up to tape to maintain separation between people and social workers will be at the sites to teach people about social distancing.
“It's a little like herding cats. It works when you're there, it doesn't when you're not there,” said Old Brewery Mission CEO Matthew Pearce. “It's troubling.”
Nakuset said the measures might be too little, too late.
“We are literally playing catch up at this point,” she said. “Whenever they've been on the streets for the last three or four weeks, they've been in groups. That's how they survive.”
Other public spaces are also being converted, with the old Royal Victoria Hospital being used as an isolation centre for the homeless who have been infected. Complexe Guy Favreau will become an overnight men's shelter with 100 beds.
The pandemic has left many who work with the homeless scrambling. The Resilience Day Shelter closed on Thursday and workers are in the streets to help.
“We need to have that education, we need to have a doctor here,” said Nakuset. “We need to have a testing site here.”