New homeless shelter in downtown Montreal: a temporary solution to a deeper problem

The shelter’s opening became controversial following complaints from business owners

On Nov. 3, a temporary winter emergency shelter opened its doors at Hotel Place Dupuis in downtown Montreal. While the new overnight shelter raised concerns among local merchants, its operator believes the new location is not responsible for unlawful activity in the neighbourhood.

Located near the Berri-UQAM metro station, the overnight shelter will provide 380 beds for those who need a place to stay during the cold winter months. It is operated by Welcome Hall Mission, a charity organization that has been supporting Montrealers dealing with homelessness and poverty since 1892.

According to Samuel Watts, the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, the shelter’s opening was part of a broader plan for dealing with the reality of COVID-19, as well as the usual winter measures that are necessary in Montreal.

“We don’t want to have people out on the streets, especially in the cold weather,” said Watts in an interview with The Concordian.

However, despite providing a safe and warm place to spend the night, the shelter sparked tensions with the neighbourhood’s business owners. Sébastien Caron, co-owner of a Copper Branch restaurant located just three blocks away, believes that the project’s lack of supervision creates an unsafe environment in the area.

“Employees are afraid to come to work. The walk from the metro station to the restaurant is quite intimidating: they’re screaming and threatening us. Our customers tell me the same thing,” said Caron.

However, Watts said that the shelter cannot control what happens on the nearby streets, especially since drug trafficking and violence are not new to the area. In fact, the shelter is located across from Place Émilie-Gamelin, “a square that’s been nefarious for a variety of illegal activities for the past 25 years,” according to Watts.

Watts added, “It’s disingenuous for the merchants to suggest that the shelter is increasing and adding these problems that have long existed in the area.”

On Nov. 26, the temporary winter shelter welcomed 237 people to stay the night. Hotel Place Dupuis had over 100 available beds that day for anybody else who wished to stay at the shelter. For Watts, however, having a large capacity is not something he would consider an achievement.

Reducing the demand for such shelters and providing permanent affordable housing should be Montreal’s solution to homelessness, according to Watts. He added, “The notion that we need to continue building up the emergency shelter capacity is equal to insanity.”

Indeed, even with over 35 homeless shelters around the city, Montreal still faces a worrying homelessness problem. According to Mayor Valérie Plante, anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 Montrealers this year do not have a place they can call home.

Moreover, Plante announced that homelessness has recently become a more alarming issue.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve noticed that there’s more and more people that are actually in the streets,” said Plante while giving a tour of the shelter on its opening day.

Therefore, Watts believes that all parties — homeless organizations, business owners, and the government — should come together and collectively aim for solving this problem, especially since it became even more serious during the pandemic.

“What COVID-19 has taught us,” Watts explained, “is that there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There’s only us, and we have to find ways of working together.”

The Hotel Place Dupuis shelter will operate throughout the winter season until March 31, 2021.


Photograph by Kit Mergaert


Housing advocates laud Mayor Plante’s social housing move

Landlords sound the alarm while other advocates say more can be done

Advocacy groups for social housing in Montreal have praised Mayor Valérie Plante’s use of the right of first refusal law, which gives the city priority in purchasing properties over private buyers for the benefit of the community.

The law, granted by the Charter of Ville de Montréal, was created in 2016 to afford the city greater powers in developing urban planning projects. Since then, the Plante administration has said it would use the law to help tackle the city’s affordable housing problem.

However, some groups representing landlords insist the city’s decision to purchase buildings for the purpose of social housing is a costly mistake.

Matthew Pearce, former CEO and President of the Old Brewery Mission, told The Concordian that the acquisition of Parc-

A mock advising session was at Project Genesis, a grassroots organization that helps the community resolve social issues, such as housing problems and basic income insecurity.

Extension’s Hutchison Plaza in September was a good start.

“[The mayor] should see the acquisition of the Hutchison building as the first in an ongoing process of purchasing of buildings that become available.” The creation of the law allows the city to compete with the deep pockets of private developers, he said.

About 20,000 families are currently on the waiting list, he explained.

“There are many people who aren’t homeless but are very precariously housed. Anybody who is without housing should have access to affordable housing.”

However, not everyone agrees with the mayor’s decision.

Martin Messier, President of the Association des Propriétaires du Québec told The Concordian  that the right of first refusal should only be used in exceptional cases.

“We think the best way to help the tenant is to provide financial help so that they are able to really choose the location and make sure that we have diversity in a building, so not only tenants with the same profile. I think it’s a win-win for the tenant and the landlord.”

Hans Brouillette, Director of Public Affairs at Corporation des Propriétaires Immobiliers du Québec, said he recognized that the private market is incapable of fulfilling the needs of all tenants. However, he stated that the city’s move was unnecessarily expensive and inefficient.

Aside from buying the property, the city will have to renovate and manage it, he said.

“The same amount of money would have helped many more households if it could have been used to keep tenants in their current apartment in the private market, or even to help them to move to a better apartment.”

Community organizer at Project Genesis, Darby MacDonald

“If some types of apartments are not available then the city should support promoters with subsidies to build those apartments,” he said. “It’s all politics. It’s an administration against landlords.”

In response to assertions about the private market’s effectiveness, Darby MacDonald, a community organizer at Project Genesis, told The Concordian that social housing “exists and is successful because it exists outside of the private market that isn’t serving the needs of its people.”

“Subsidies alone won’t resolve issues of people who require housing, and many of those who accept subsidies find themselves in difficult situations,” MacDonald said. One woman, she explained, accepted an apartment subsidy for five years but the landlord renovicted the building’s other inhabitants. “She’s the only person remaining and doesn’t have electricity.” 

“The solution is for the government to step in and take care of the community the way that it can.”


Photographs by Christine Beaudoin

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