MONTREAL -- Concordia University students are calling on the school's administration to turn an unused dormitory into temporary housing for the homeless.

“This is kind of a no-brainer. Why don't we try and get homeless people inside these beds?” said student David Desjardins.

The currently empty building has a fitting history: a former convent, it was used to house Montreal's sick, poor and orphaned in the 1700s. In normal times, it serves as a residence for 600 Concordia students but with the pandemic keeping students at home, Desjardins is heading the push to put it to good use.

“They have the opportunity and they have the resources to make a big jump in progress for the community and they don't want to do it,” he said.

In a statement, the school's administration said the building is not set up for use as a shelter.

“The layout of our residences, where people share bathrooms, dining areas and common areas, does not lend itself easily to social distancing,” they said.

The university added that it's using the dorm's temporary emptiness to make repairs.

This past year has seen several temporary shelters set up to serve Montreal's homeless community, such as in the old site of the Royal Victoria Hospital. But those shelters are set to close by the end of spring. Sam Watts, head of the Welcome Hall Mission, said he hopes that by then, the city will have no use for them.

“Right now in Montreal, the issues is not emergency shelter, the issue is, can we get enough permanent housing units established so that people who need housing can get into permanent housing?” he said.

In the last three years, Watts said his network has found permanent housing for 450 people, 89 per cent of which are still housed.

“There might be three to four thousand people who are homeless right now but only 600 of them are people who are rough sleepers or unaccounted for,” he said. “We don't have a problem that's completely unsolvable.”