A Christmas Eve for the homeless, despite Omicron

The homeless of Montreal will be entitled to a Christmas Eve this year, although in reduced formula, pandemic obliges. The rise in COVID-19 cases, the lack of employees and volunteers as well as the tightening of health rules imposed by Quebec are however causing many headaches for shelters in the metropolis.

The story repeats itself. Just like last winter, cases of COVID-19 are increasing in the homeless community, just like in the rest of the population. The most recent data provided Tuesday by the Public Health of Montreal at Duty, at the time when the City announced the return of the local state of emergency, reported 260 cases declared positive among the homeless and the members of the staff of the resources who serve them, between the 1is July and December 18. There were then two active outbreaks of COVID-19 cases reported in resources. However, several organizations intend to have their employees screened in the coming days, which could increase this toll, several of them indicated to the Duty.

“Things are moving a lot in the sector. It’s dramatic. It’s like last year, ”sighs the President and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission, James Hughes. “But all the same, we cook super nice meals,” he adds, however, on a more optimistic note, when asked about Christmas Eve that awaits the hundreds of homeless who frequent the men’s shelter. and the one for women managed by the organization in Montreal.

Thus, a succulent meal consisting of lamb roast with a salad including rice with raisins and almonds will be served to the homeless who will go to these resources on Friday evening, decorated for the occasion, while the traditional turkey will be offered. Saturday afternoon. “We are doing our best, but it is certain that it is not like three years ago”, recognizes Mr. Hughes. This year, itinerants will only be able to remove their mask once they are seated in their place, which will be separated from the others by panels of plexiglass. They will also be much less numerous at the same time to enjoy a meal in order to ensure respect for physical distancing.

A Christmas in “vigilance” mode

“This year is a year of vigilance. I know that we are going to have several meals that are special [pour le réveillon de Noël]. But the gatherings, we forget that ”, slices for his part the president and general manager of the Mission Bon Accueil, Samuel Watts. In recent weeks, 40 people experiencing homelessness have been placed in isolation in a refuge set up for this purpose at the Abri du Voyageur hotel in downtown Montreal. However, “we think that it could easily reach a hundred”, apprehends Mr. Watts.

Caution is therefore in order. To limit contact between the homeless, tight traffic control will be carried out in the cafeterias of the organization’s various resources, which will stretch the duration of the meal service on Friday evening to serve as many people as possible. “What we’re trying to do is prevent outbreaks, especially among employees,” says Watts. Because, if several staff members are infected with COVID-19, “it becomes perilous to keep the services open”, also notes Mr. Hughes who shares this fear.

The organization CARE Montreal, which manages three shelters in the east of Montreal, had for its part planned to hold a Christmas mass and serve a special meal to its users, but the lack of employees in its resources, linked in particular to COVID-19 positive cases detected in recent days has thwarted its plans. “Everything has been canceled,” sighs its general manager, Michel Monette. The latter has also canceled his vacation to be able to “stay at the office” during the Holidays.

“We’ve been in this for two years [en pandémie], but here it is worse than worse, ”drops Mr. Monette, at a time when the rise in COVID-19 cases, stimulated by the Omicron variant, is breaking records in Quebec.

The shelters are overflowing

Many homeless women in Montreal will be able to turn Friday evening to the shelter of the organization Chez Doris, which will serve an Italian meal concocted by a restaurant in Rosemère. “People still eat together, but everyone is separated by Plexiglas,” explains the organization’s executive director, Marina Boulos-Winton.

However, the refuge, open 24 hours a day, is struggling to meet demand. Daily, a dozen women are refused entry at mealtime, while “three to six women per night” are turned away at the door, due to the lack of beds available to meet demand, explains Mrs. Boulos-Winton.

“We have outbreaks all over the place [dans le milieu de l’itinérance], which limits new admissions. And the capacities are less ”, summarizes for her part the general director of Accueil Bonneau, Fiona Crossling, who notes that many homeless people come to sleep in the day center of her organization, after a night spent outside. “It’s very stressful for people who can’t find a bed,” she says.

On Tuesday, the mayoress of Montreal, Valérie Plante, indicated that 116 places were then lacking to reach the 1,550 planned in the winter plan of the City and Public Health. The City has also taken steps to fill this gap, says the mayor’s office. Various organizations mentioned in particular Duty the importance of setting up a second site dedicated to the isolation of homeless people with COVID-19 in Montreal.

“Everyone is on maximum alert,” illustrates James Hughes, who finds “a great pity” that the City and the government have not better planned the blow in terms of resources for the homeless this winter.

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