Winter necessitates better resurces for the homeless
For people living in Montreal, winter is a difficult experience that impacts individuals and communities differently based on factors like class, accessibility, and infrastructure. Winter can limit physical mobility, interfere with plumbing and heating infrastructures, and exacerbate illness, among other things. In the Mcgill community, some of us are privileged to be able to easily adapt to the harsh conditions. In contrast, winter can be dangerous – and often life-threatening – for disadvantaged communities, in particular people impacted by poverty and homelessness. It is crucial that the city improve the resources and accomodations it offers them throughout the season.
In 2015, a Montreal Homeless Census recorded a total of 3,016 people experiencing homelessness. This record is based on a count of people living on the streets, which does not accurately account for hidden homelessness— living without a permanent address. Community groups estimate a much higher population of 20,000 people experiencing all forms of homelessness in the greater Montreal area. In response to the extreme weather, Montreal is said to have invested $778,000 in emergency resources for the homeless, leading to 925 more spots in shelters and 20 community outreach workers to facilitate the process. Shelters like the Old Brewery Mission also employ an overnight shuttle service that transports those in need to the emergency accommodations. In addition, the Societe de transport de Montreal (STM) allows those experiencing homelessness to take shelter in available stations, which can provide temporary relief.
While these measures appear to provide a shortterm solution, they are the bare minimum that the city of Montreal can ensure. The STM can only keep stations open to those who need shelter during operating hours, as maintenance is done overnight. The Old Brewery Mission shelter runs a shuttle bus that operates to send people living on the streets to emergency shelter spaces, but the few shelters open 24/7 only operate during emergency weather conditions. Often, shelters are forced to turn people away due to lack of funds and resources. In addition, shelters are sometimes not a viable option for those who are experiencing homelessness, for reasons such as the possibility of contracting illnesses. These issues are often ignored by the authorities; for instance, police are allowed to force people on the streets into a shelter for the night. Montreal also features hostile architecture, such as benches designed with middle armrests, restricted spaces in bus stops, and stool seats in STM stations, which prevent homeless people from sleeping or resting in public spaces.
It is up to the newly elected Montreal city council to meet the needs of this vulnerable population, especially in the winter. During the 2017 campaign, promises were made regarding assistance to the homeless; however, the current mayorship, led by Valerie Plante, has recently revealed a $318-million shortfall in the administration’s budget left by Coderre’s leadership. While Valerie Plante’s municipal party, Projet Montréal, has a homelessness platform, its efficacy is limited by this shortfall, and the platform has outlined no promising plans thus far. We therefore call on Projet Montréal to acknowledge the urgency of the issue, strengthen their policy on homelessness in consultation with community organisations, and implement concrete and rapid measures that offer support to one of Montreal’s most vulnerable populations during dire weather conditions. Individuals can contribute to this effort by volunteering or donating their money or resources; below is a list of support organisations for homeless individuals in the city.