New 24-hour homeless shelter in Montreal draws complaints from neighbours

David Robertson says the new homeless shelter is attracting too much nuisance and he wants to sell his house. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
David Robertson says the new homeless shelter is attracting too much nuisance and he wants to sell his house. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

David Robertson is trying to sell his home on Montreal's St-Urbain Street as he has had enough of the disturbances.

Those disturbances started when the new homeless shelter moved into the former Hôtel-Dieu hospital, making the neighbourhood uninhabitable, he said,

"They are clearly in need of medical help and they are not getting it here," he said.

The Hôtel-Dieu is located on St-Urbain Street. Over the summer, the Old Brewery and Welcome Hall missions partnered with one of the Montreal health boards, the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, to set up the shelter with at least 100 beds.

The shelter was opened after the emergency accommodations in Place Dupuis — another temporary shelter in a downtown hotel — were shut down.

Hughes say more support needed

James Hughes, president and CEO at Old Brewery, said even the "toughest character" living on the street can be housed.

He said everything is being done to make sure the Hôtel-Dieu, which is open 24 hours, is made as welcoming as possible. It's not a prison, he said, and people are allowed to come and go as they please.

He said there needs to be a balance when it comes to sharing public space, like a nearby park that has drawn most of the complaints. He said his administration has been looking closely at the situation and is doing what it can.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC
Rowan Kennedy/CBC

For example, he explained, a smoking room was opened inside so people don't need to go outside to smoke. A team was also formed to regularly meet with people who are repeatedly behaving in a disruptive manner, he said, and a hotline has been set up so people can notify staff of those causing problems.

However, as much as the mission is working to address these issues, more support is needed, he said.

"We really need to have the teams and resources and access to housing that we don't have today," he said.

"Housing answers the problem of co-habitation in public spaces."

SPVM monitoring situation

Caroline Labelle, a spokesperson for Montreal's police service, said additional personnel were deployed in the area surrounding the Hôtel-Dieu shelter during the summer. She said police also met with local residents in July and August.

She said there are specialized units who work with the homeless population, providing emergency psychosocial support and community outreach.

Quebec Minister of Health spokesperson Marjorie Larouche said there are several strategies in the making and funding is on the way to support responses to homelessness in Montreal.

"However, it should be noted that for more than two years, we have seen among vulnerable people, greater precariousness, greater psychological distress, increased food needs and an increase in the consumption of psychoactive substances," Larouche said.

And during that time, the number of beds available in emergency shelters has decreased due to physical distancing measures and those living with homelessness "face many challenges in meeting their basic needs."
In Montreal, 1,660 beds were made available over the winter, she said. That meant adding 1,000 additional beds to the stock. While the province is working on solutions, Montreal needs to identify alternative sites to accommodate people in need, she said.