News | Homeless face an extreme winter

Shelters overflow as temperatures drop below -25 degrees Celsius

Montreal shelters were packed early last week, as temperatures plummeted to minus 40 degrees Celsius accounting for wind chill. In compliance with the Winter Protocol, a collaborative action involving almost every shelter in Montreal, no one was refused entry, regardless of shelters’ capacity.

Implemented four years ago, the objective of the Winter Protocol is to save lives in extreme conditions. Part of the protocol includes patrol cars searching out those in need of shelter and bringing them in. Montreal is host to over 30,000 homeless. As a result of the protocol, over the past three winters no homeless people in Montreal have died as a result of an inability to find shelter.

Canada’s largest private shelter, the Old Brewery Mission near the Old Port is crucial to maintaining this practice. The mission offers overnight shelter starting at 9 p.m. every night, and provides breakfast each morning. The weekend of January 22 it was so cold that the centre was forced to keep its doors open continuously over two days, something it has not needed to do in the last six years.

Danny Gaudat is 63 years old and has been coming to the Old Brewery Mission for two years.

“I come back here because the people are friendly and they’re helpful,” he said. “They’ll get you a decent meal, they’ll make sure that you’re comfortable and they’ll get you a place – even if you’re on the floor.”

Xavier, a homeless man who has been coming to the Old Brewery Mission for the past four years, described the people in the organization and the administration as “really, really gentle.”

“We don’t judge here,” he said.

“They know what your situation is. They know you’re not in the best of shape, and they do what they can to help you. You can’t complain about that,” Gaudat added.

The Old Brewery Mission has been open for twenty years. It takes in over 300 people each night and provides around 400 people access to a nightly hot meal and a clothing depot.

“Sometimes it’s really full and you have to sleep on the floor,” Gaudat said. “Somebody will eventually bring you a blanket – if you’re lucky a pillow. But even if not, it’s better than outside.”

Gaudat added that the strict no-violence policy creates a safe atmosphere for those staying the night.

As well as shelter, some missions offer programs to address a wider range of concerns including substance abuse, societal reintegration, and mental and behavioral issues.

Xavier described a program at the Old Brewery called the Fifth Floor. The program lasts for about a month and helps participants with a variety of tasks, including finding a job and money to pay rent so that they can figure out their next steps. According to Xavier, who has personally been involved in the program three times, the program’s short-term nature is due to the high demand for the services provided.

“There’s not much for older guys,” Gaudat said referring to other outreach programs. “They mostly consider us a write off; that’s the bottom line.

“There could be a little more funding for places like this,” he continued referring to the Old Brewery and shelters like it.
Shelters receive relatively low amounts of government support relying on private and corporate donations for over 65 percent of their budget. Most shelters only receive between $1.24 and $2.36 per person per day from the municipality for the emergency services provided. The actual cost is between $55 and $57 dollars per person per day.

Robert Levigne, chief of emergency programs and general operations at the Old Brewery spoke of the initaitve’s successes but also warned that if the shelter closed there would be “more deaths.”

“No one can tell me that’s not true,” he added.

—With files from Erin Hudson


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