On January 9th, Quebec started its most recent lockdown measure; a curfew beginning at 8 pm and ending at 5 am the following day. Despite the apparent backlash, this measure was put into place to limit private gatherings. Any person out after 8 pm without a permission slip will be served a hefty fine. But the homeless population has not been spared by these fines, even though most struggle to find shelter.
The State of Homeless Shelters and Curfew Criticism
Homeless shelters in Montreal have been greatly impacted by COVID-19, with several outbreaks linked to them. The open door shelter near Milton/Park on the plateau, previously capable of sheltering 65 people, closed last month due to an outbreak but has recently reopened with a limited capacity of 25 people. This capacity limit in shelters has been a general occurrence in Montreal shelters and has been a problem most notably pointed out by Québec solidaires’ leader Manon Massé. In a statement last week, Manon Massé stated that she is concerned for Montreal and Quebec's homeless population after two homeless people received fines of 1550$ in Val-d’Or. Prime Minister François Legault claimed that there are sufficient spaces in homeless shelters for all the homeless population, something that Manon Massé claims to be false; instead, she encourages Legault and the CAQ to invest in social housing and mental health programs.
Photo by Ryan Remiorz: The Canadian Press
The Homeless: A More at Risk Population
The shelter problem in Montreal is due to the limited capacity and the fear that the homeless have of catching COVID-19. Although shelters offer a warm and comfortable place for the homeless, some avoid shelters all together in fear of catching COVID-19. Shelters in Quebec are not equipped for the homeless population this year, primarily for two reasons. Firstly, the homeless population has grown extensively, and shelters were already very dense; secondly, COVID has forced many shelters to limit a limited number of people.
In a recent study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, it was made clear that the homeless population in Ontario was more prone to catching, hospitalized, and even dying from COVID, up to five times more likely to die from COVID. This is due in part because of the high population density of homeless shelters and the homeless population's poor health. Although this study was made in Ontario, we can assume that this would be very similar in Quebec.
All this presents a bleak time for the homeless population, especially here in Montreal. Historically, the homeless population has failed to have its voice heard; luckily, many community organizers have brought aid to them this year. This begs the question: why does Prime Minister Legault enforce curfew restrictions on the homeless population? And why have they been unable to find safe shelters? Many police officers have chosen to ignore the homeless during curfew, and some even providing them with safe transport to a nearby shelter. Still, at the same time, many have not and have ticketed the homeless.