The Quebec government refuses to invest in what is truly needed: sufficient year-round housing-oriented shelter services and case management.
Two years of heroic work by Montreal’s homeless-sector workers during a pandemic, two more years of accumulated trauma for those who depend on emergency services to survive, and there is still insufficient provincial government action to end chronic homelessness.
On Friday, four winter warming centres, with a combined capacity of 165 people, closed their doors. Aptly, it was April Fools Day, but far from a prank.The reason? Funding from the CIUSSS-Centre-Sud, which is responsible for the homelessness file in the City of Montreal, is ending. Accueil Bonneau operated one of these facilities. The Old Brewery has CIUSSS funding to continue to operate its warming centre until June 30, but this funding only allows it to stay open from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. This situation is deeply wrong for several reasons.First, there should be no uniquely winter services at all. Homelessness doesn’t begin on Dec. 1 and end on March 31. But funding does. Homelessness needs to be addressed not based on the season or the temperature, but on the needs of unhoused people. Those needs exist year-round.
Second, there should not be nighttime services only. The fight against homelessness requires resources to work with people during the day to pave the way to housing. This includes providing psychosocial intervention, helping with obtaining identity cards, working on filing taxes in order to be eligible for a rent supplement and looking for an appropriate dwelling. The fact that the health department only funds services from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (or less) results in many unhoused people being unanchored during the day and being forced to move from place to place. The policy actually prolongs and increases homelessness.Finally, winter warming stations are designed for short visits to allow people to come in to grab a coffee and a sandwich, use the computer, wash clothes and maybe take a shower, then leave. However, because all the homeless shelters have been full to overflowing this winter, the warming centres had to be used as sleeping quarters. Forget getting a real night’s sleep in one of these facilities. Accueil Bonneau’s warming centre, which was funded for just February and March, could only provide gym mats for individuals to sleep overnight on the floor. At Old Brewery’s warming centre, people have tables available at which to sleep at night, with their heads on their arms. What the government should have done was fund more 24/7 shelter spaces. Instead, it chose to fund a cheaper model.
Therein lies the rub. The provincial government parsimoniously refuses to invest in what is truly needed: sufficient year-round housing-oriented shelter services with professional case management on a 24/7 basis. To add insult to injury, the vast majority of the money actually deployed into the homelessness sector is actually federal funding managed by the province, to which the province largely refuses to add its own funds notwithstanding its legal responsibility for the sector.It’s not that they don’t know better.In the spring of 2021, eight large homelessness organizations in Montreal, including ours, with hundreds of years of combined experience, gathered their best people together to find a better way forward. A plan called Un Pas de Plus was born. It would see city, health, and community sectors work together to drastically reduce chronic homelessness over five years, by directing resources to housing and mental health services via 24/7/365 resources with a co-ordinated access platform. Un Pas de Plus was widely hailed as a breakthrough document; however, despite verbal support and some modest progress, little has actually happened on the ground.
As winter approached, the government simply fell back to its typical “winter measures” minimalist-funding model.
And now as winter ends, there are hundreds of people with no place to go, and not even a mat to sleep on.
We wish this had only been an April Fool’s prank. It wasn’t.
Fiona Crossling is director general of Accueil Bonneau, and James Hughes is CEO of Old Brewery Mission.