The homeless seek refuge in frigid weather

Photo by Leonardo Nieto-Montenegro

Last week’s dangerously low temperatures had shelters across the city working hard to accommodate and take in as many people in need as possible.

With severe wind-chill warnings in effect, residents province-wide were advised to stay indoors and to layer-up when going outside. In Montreal, temperatures reached a paralyzing minus 36 degrees Celsius combined with winds of over 20 kilometres per hour.

With no place to call home, inadequate winter clothing and minimal food, the homeless people of Montreal were left depending on shelters and drop-in centres.

“During the winter we have a policy where we must take in everyone that comes and we cannot turn anyone away,” said Virginie Lussier, an employee at the Old Brewery Mission. “It’s a question of survival.”

The Old Brewery Mission offers a shuttle service that drives around the city to other shelters and picks up the homeless on the street to bring them back to hot food and a bed. The shelter also has a cafeteria and a kitchen run by volunteers.

If an individual has a bit of extra money they are able to rent a bed for a very low cost. Men can stay from one to three weeks and women from one to three months. With the deep-freeze, the Old Brewery Mission is experiencing overcrowding but Lussier said that everyone is accepted.

“We put mattresses on the floor in the cafeteria and everywhere if there are no more beds available or we call other shelters,” said Lussier. “Under no circumstance, especially in the winter, can we deny shelter to those looking for it.”

J.C., a homeless man currently residing at the Old Brewery Mission, explained that shelters are essential in freezing weather.

“In the summer, there’s no problem, but in the winter if we did not have the shelter we would probably be forced to sleep in shopping centres or anywhere really that’s warm. Or we would freeze to death,” said J.C..

The St. James United Church also offers a day shelter. Allan Spitzer, who works at the drop-in centre, said that the church provides access to showers, clean clothing, hot meals and a few beds as well. On average, they take in about 50 people each day.

According to Spitzer, the goal of the church is to be a catalyst for change as the number of homeless grows in Montreal to ensure that destitution doesn’t “become the norm.”

“What we are trying to do here is to offer a safe and supportive environment for those who are homeless or marginalized in our society.” said Spitzer. “We want them to experience community, not only just [the] services.”

The church also aims to help people reclaim their own dignity and find their own solutions to their problems. The drop-in centre works actively with people while they are there, helping them find more suitable housing and work.

These shelters depend greatly on donations. They accept non-perishable food items, clothes, pillows and money.

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