Warming tent in Cabot Square to be dismantled Sunday

·3 min read
The Raphaël Memorial Tent in Cabot Square served hundreds per day. Its last day open was on Saturday.   (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC - image credit)
The Raphaël Memorial Tent in Cabot Square served hundreds per day. Its last day open was on Saturday. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC - image credit)

It was a sombre afternoon on Saturday as volunteers gathered at Resilience Montreal's kitchen to prepare the last batch of meals for those who rely on the Raphaël André tent in Cabot Square.

After running out of federal funding and extending the operation of the overnight shelter several times over the course of 15 months, the city has confirmed it will be dismantled sometime Sunday afternoon.

"Tonight is our last night and it's definitely going to be difficult to have to leave," said Alexandra Ambroise, the tent's coordinator.

"I keep thinking about tomorrow night and the coming days. Where will they go?"

The memorial tent was set up 15 months ago in response to the death of Raphaël Napa André, a 51-year-old Innu man who was found dead just steps from the Open Door shelter in the Plateau.

A woman volunteering at their kitchen Saturday said people in the area are reeling, with it being the only place in the area where homeless people could go to feel safe.

CBC News
CBC News

Open from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., it provided a warm place for those looking for a meal, clothes or somewhere to sleep. Its last night of operation was on Saturday.

"The Raphaël tent is a place where, during a storm, you could come in to finally eat and get warm. It's about survival," Suzanne Chemaganis, the mother of Raphaël André, told Radio-Canada.

"We tragically lost our son and I think of other homeless people in the same situation."

Submitted by John Tessier/The Open Door
Submitted by John Tessier/The Open Door

Roughly 99,000 people have visited the tent since it opened on Feb 2, 2021, Resilience Montreal says, which includes over 7,000 who have stayed to sleep overnight.

The office for Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs says the tent was always meant to be a temporary solution.

In a statement Saturday, it said it will focus instead on expanding the housing available for those experiencing homelessness, investing in organizations like Projet Autochtone de Québec and Resilience Montreal.

That includes $3.6 million that will be going to Resilience Montreal to expand its services, they added. The organization also offers daytime services.

'Not just a Band-Aid'

The choice doesn't need to be between keeping the tent or choosing to invest in housing, their executive director says.

"One of the things that's unfortunately not understood well is that you need both housing services and emergency services — services that keep people alive that are living in precarious situations," said David Chapman "They're not just a Band-Aid."

CBC News
CBC News

"If you have inadequate emergency services while people wait for housing, what that means is inevitably you will have a higher death rate among the homeless population."

Ambroise said she understands the tent was only meant to be a temporary measure, but had hoped to see something permanent set up that could have built on its success.

"After it closes I hope things start to move and that something permanent can be set up," she said. "It's essential."

Up to 450 people could visit the tent on a typical night, Ambroise said, and unlike the majority of shelters, it also took in people under the influence.

The city has told the organization the dismantling could last until May 5.

Meals will continue to be shared with those in need at Cabot Square until May 15, the city says.

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