MONTREAL -- In November 2020, when Hotel Place Dupuis found its rooms empty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision was made to offer said rooms to those in need: Montreal’s unhoused community.

Since then, up to 380 beds have been available in this makeshift homeless shelter, providing temporary housing to some of the city’s most vulnerable populations.

But on June 30, this will no longer be the case.

With the vaccination rollout underway and a return to normalcy in sight, Hotel Place Dupuis will resume its pre-pandemic operations at the end of the month. Soon, its rooms will re-open to tourists and travelers.

Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and director of development philanthropy for Resilience Montreal, says finding a new home for the hotel’s temporary residents is imperative because other shelters may not have the space to take them in.

“The problem is that, even though we’re sort of going into this ‘orange zone’ and eventually into a ‘yellow zone,’ the capacity hasn’t increased,” she said. “[This] means that regular shelters can only support a lower number.”

Sam Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission, the organization that runs the Place Dupuis shelter, says his team has been focused on providing new accommodations for the hotel’s residents.

“What we’ve got is a plan that is coming together right now that’s going to ensure that people can transition to another facility,” he said.

While Watts believes the new facility will provide an even higher quality of care than the hotel, there are still some logistical unknowns.

“Nothing is ever guaranteed,” he said, “but at this point in time we’re confident that the plan is coming together.”

HOMELESS DURING A HOUSING SHORTAGE

Between economic shutdowns, reduced-capacity shelters and fast-spreading outbreaks of COVID-19, the pandemic has made life especially difficult for Montreal’s unhoused population.

But according to Quebec solidaire (QS) spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, it must be emphasized that the pandemic is not the root cause of homelessness in the city, and that these issues have been here all along.

“The housing crisis existed before the pandemic. The rise [in] homeless people in Montreal and across Quebec existed before the pandemic. The pandemic just, maybe, put a flashlight on those problems,” he said in a press conference Thursday.

Nadeau-Dubois said the Quebec government can take immediate action in addressing homelessness and the housing crisis through preventative measures. He recalls how the province established a moratorium on evictions last year in response to economic hardships caused by COVID-19.

“The government can — this morning, or today, or this weekend — stop evictions in Montreal and across Quebec,” he said. “They did it last year, why don’t they do it this year?”

Last year’s months-long moratorium ended on July 20, 2020.

Not all politicians are in agreement that the housing crisis even exists, however. Just last month, Andrée Laforest, Quebec’s minister responsible for housing, cited data showing an increase in vacancy rates between 2006 (0.6 per cent) and 2020 (2.7 per cent).

“We are not at all in a housing crisis,” she said.

However, Laforest’s assertion did not take into account the rising number of tenants that are currently searching for homes, and the ongoing elevation in rental costs.

Last year, the average cost of rent in Montreal increased by 4.2 per cent — the biggest jump in 20 years.

“It’s incredibly difficult to find affordable housing,” said Nakuset.

“If [housing] was not an issue that wouldn’t have homelessness in the numbers that we do now.”