Inuit women lost during pandemic honoured as winter moves in on Montreal's homeless

·4 min read
Members of the Cabot Square community say they have seen the deaths of seven Inuit women since the spring of 2020 from a variety of causes. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)
Members of the Cabot Square community say they have seen the deaths of seven Inuit women since the spring of 2020 from a variety of causes. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)

A group of Indigenous women gathered at Montreal's Cabot Square Friday to raise awareness about the number of Inuit women who have died during the past year and a half.

"They deserve respect and honour. We need to have a voice in order to keep our voices strong as Inuit and all Indigenous women," said Emily Angnakuk, who has lived in Montreal for 13 years.

The Inuk elder said she is not going to stop speaking about her fellow Inuk sisters who died during the pandemic, just as she speaks about missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.

Members of the Cabot Square community say they have seen the deaths of seven Inuit women since the spring of 2020, from a variety of causes.

Some of the challenges Inuit women say they face include language barriers, as well as poverty, violence and addiction.

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

Maria Paredes, a case worker who works with Indigenous and Inuit women in Cabot Square, said they want better access to housing and services.

"They just want to live a life of dignity," she said.

A spokesperson for Quebec's Indigenous Affairs Ministry told CBC the government has invested $3.6 million dollars in resources around Cabot Square.

That's in addition to the government's announcement last month that it is putting $14 million toward the support of those who are Indigenous and experiencing homelessness.

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

That investment is part of the Quebec government's plan to spend $280 million over the next five years in sheltering homeless people immediately, and in a long-term effort to prevent homelessness among at-risk populations provincewide.

In a statement to CBC, a Montreal spokesperson says the city is doubling its funding to combat homelessness.

The city is also creating 23 additional transitional housing units for Indigenous women, the statement says.

Logifem to open new shelter for families

Meanwhile, Logifem, an emergency shelter and support service for women in Montreal, is opening a new shelter for families experiencing homelessness on Dec. 3.

The organization says there's already a waiting list of families hoping for a place in what will be called La Lumineuse.

"Unfortunately with the housing crisis and with the pandemic and with the unfortunate increase in conjugal violence, there seems to be a need for even more spaces for women and particularly women with children who are even more vulnerable," said Sally Richmond, executive director.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC

The new shelter will house eight families, with most of the funding coming from the province. However, Logifem is asking the public to donate furniture, gift cards and money.

"We're furnishing this whole shelter, so the more donations that we can get the better it is for us because we have a limited budget," said Anne Bergeron, a spokesperson for the organization.

Homeless shelters experiencing outbreaks

While eight families may soon have a place to stay, six Montreal homeless shelters have been hit with COVID-19 outbreaks over the last few weeks.

A downtown hotel used as a quarantine site for people experiencing homelessness has taken about 90 people in during that time.

Among those affected are the Old Brewery Mission, the Welcome Hall Mission and CARE Montreal. Leaders from these organizations are calling on the provincial government to do more to protect the city's homeless.

Shelters have had to adjust protocol. For example, staff can't admit new people to sleep overnight who weren't already staying there. That means people have been turned away, according to Old Brewery Mission CEO James Hughes.

Welcome Hall Mission CEO Sam Watts said, with winter fast approaching, Montreal needs another 150 shelter spaces to meet the demand.

"The urgency is incredible at the moment, because if we don't do something, if we don't develop a plan B pretty quickly, I think we are going to have a humanitarian crisis on our hands," said Watts.

In a statement, Montreal public health says there are 1,227 emergency shelter beds and 146 were vacant as of Nov. 5. More beds will be available in the coming month, bringing the count up to about 1,550 beds.

The agency has recommendations, but is not requiring shelters to turn new clients away, the statement says.

"The health of all residents of the island of Montreal is our priority and that is why we are constantly working to improve our practices," the statement says.

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