Montreal converts arena, soccer stadium into homeless shelters

·2 min read

Dozens of Montrealers experiencing homelessness will have a new place to sleep tonight, as the city scrambles to overcome a lack of shelter capacity made worse by recent COVID-19 outbreaks.

A new temporary homeless shelter has opened at the Pierre-Charbonneau sports arena near the Olympic stadium and will remain in operation until at least March 31.

The Red Cross is also setting up 150 beds at the Stade de soccer de Montréal on Papineau Avenue for people without homes who test positive for COVID-19.

Unlike the space set up at the old Royal Victoria Hospital, this centre is strictly for those who have little to no symptoms and who do not need medical treatment.

A new warming centre is also expected to open up in Cabot Square at some point next week.

24/7 spaces allow people to stay put

The 24-hour shelter at Pierre Charbonneau arena is a collaboration between community group CAP St-Barnabé and CARE Montreal. Right now, ithas only 40 beds but it will eventually be able to welcome up to 112 people, with 30 of those spaces reserved for women.

Renaud Boulanger/CBC
Renaud Boulanger/CBC

Michelle Patenaude, director of clinic operations at CAP St-Barnabé, said the organization agreed to help run the centre on the condition that it remain open 24/7.

"Personally, places like Hotel Place Dupuis are great, but sadly, people can't stay there all day," said Patenaude.

Montreal Public Health Director Dr. Mylène Drouin said Friday that is one of many reasons COVID-19 outbreaks are difficult to control among people experiencing homelessness.

"There's high mobility with this population, so people are moving from one shelter to another, from one place to another," said Drouin.

Since the beginning of December, Drouin said, 192 people experiencing homelessness have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 82 people from the community groups who work with them.

Many of those cases, she said, stem from outbreaks in 13 different facilities — eight of which are still active.

The need to find shelter space for Montreal's homeless population has grown increasingly urgent in recent weeks, especially as the premier has stated those experiencing homelessness will not be exempt from following the 8 p.m. curfew.

Calls for more overnight spaces were amplified further earlier this week, following the death of Raphaël André, a 51-year-old Innu man who died just steps away from the Open Door drop-in centre, which is currently closed overnight because of a COVID-19 outbreak last month.

Vaccination campaign proceeding

Drouin is hoping that the new shelters, along with the city's vaccination program for people who are homeless, will improve the situation.

Renaud Boulanger/CBC
Renaud Boulanger/CBC

So far, about 400 people experiencing homelessness and 200 workers have been vaccinated. The city hopes to vaccinate about 500 more in the coming weeks.

"We have a massive action plan to control the situation. We're doing screening with different community organizations and shelters," Drouin said.