Montreal homeless man found dead near NDG overpass during extreme cold warning

·3 min read
Homeless shelters are at capacity because of the cold and the pandemic. Some people opt to brave the weather on their own. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC - image credit)
Homeless shelters are at capacity because of the cold and the pandemic. Some people opt to brave the weather on their own. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC - image credit)

Montreal police say the Quebec coroner is investigating after a 74-year-old Montreal man experiencing homelessness was found dead during an extreme cold snap.

The SPVM said they received a call around 6 p.m. Monday, saying someone living in a makeshift camp was unwell near an overpass at Saint-Jacques Street and Highway 20 in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Once on site, first responders confirmed that the man was dead.

Montreal entered a deep freeze Monday night, with temperatures dipping to –26 C. By Tuesday morning, it felt like –35 C with the wind chill.

Montreal's homeless organizations say they've been buckling under the pressure of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, which has reduced capacity in many overnight shelters.

James Hughes, president and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission shelter, says if there had been more resources available, there is a chance the man's death could have been avoided.

"You can't help but ask yourself that question: If we had more resources, more street teams, could we have made sure this person had the option to get inside last night?"

Hours before the man was found, Dr. Horacio Arruda, who announced his resignation as Quebec's public health director Monday, called on homeless shelters to disregard pandemic-related capacity limits and to fully reopen for the next few nights.

Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC
Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC

Hughes says receiving the public health notice Monday night was encouraging, but says it will be tough on workers and organizations to implement the rule as they try to reconcile two competing challenges: the pandemic and the cold.

"It's a very tough call to make but in the end, what's more dangerous?" he said. "We know from the gentleman who perished out in NDG what the dangers of being outside are."

COVID isolation centre coming to soccer facility

During a news conference on Tuesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the 74-year-old man's death was "not acceptable," adding that she was heartbroken by the news.

"This is not what we want," she said, "Nobody should be in the cold right now."

Plante maintains that there were enough spaces available across the city to make sure no one spent the night outdoors.

The mayor said Montreal police were familiar with the man who died and that he had been camping out in the NDG area for more than 10 years and "refused to go toward existing resources."

Still, Plante announced a plan to bolster those resources.

René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada
René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada

The city of Montreal has already requisitioned the Chrome Hotel downtown to be used by the homeless population for self-isolation, but that building has already reached its maximum capacity.

Now, even more spots are on the way at the Stade de soccer de Montréal in the Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension borough.

Up to 320 beds for homeless people who have tested positive for the virus will be available at the soccer facility in the coming days, Mayor Valérie Plante announced Tuesday.

The mayor also pointed out, however, that finding staff to work with people experiencing homelessness is a major challenge.

"The challenge for the city of Montreal is not to find spaces, is not to find places, it's actually to find the adequate people to work with those communities," she said.

According to Montreal Public Health, as of Monday, 216 homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.

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