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Montreal’s homeless community, shelters bracing for extreme cold

There's still a population that has nowhere to go," says Marie-Pier Therrien, at Old Mission Brewery, as Montreal's unhoused could be facing temperatures feeling like -40 Friday morning. Felisha Adam reports.

By Felisha Adam

The temperature in Montreal has been manageable most of Thursday, but come nightfall, all of that changes.

The city will see the mercury drop to -35 with the wind chill and an extreme cold warning in effect from Environment Canada. It could feel like -40 by Friday morning.

Shelters like the Old Brewery Mission are left bracing themselves for a polar vortex and keeping the city’s unhoused safe and warm.

“We’ve seen people coming in and out, going for resources, looking for warmth and from some bed for the next few nights,” says Marie-Pier Therrien, part of Old Brewery Mission.

Montreal has opened two emergency overnight shelters, a first site in Ville-Marie opened Tuesday. A site in the Plateau-Mont-Royal will open Thursday. Both will remain open from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. until Sunday, when the extreme cold is expected to end.

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Police officers and members of the Équipe mobile de médiation en intervention sociale (ÉMMIS) have been instructed to lead the city’s most vulnerable to those two locations.

Marie-Pier says while it’s great collaboration, it’s simply not enough to ensure the safety of those unhoused.

“Even though there’s more than a thousand six hundred places open in Montreal, there isn’t enough for everybody. Some of them have restrictions. Some of them are for women only. So there’s still a population that has nowhere to go,” says Therrien.

She adds the cold weather isn’t a surprised, “homelessness is not a seasonal phenomenon.”

One of Montreal’s most vulnerable: homeless community bracing for extreme cold. (Photo credit: Felisha Adam)


“We’re trying to tell people, limit your time outdoors right. If you’re an outdoor worker, we’re saying come in every few minutes and warm up. But some people just can’t do that,” says Natasha Ramsahai, Chief meteorologist, CityNews 680.

With windchill dropping to minus 35 overnight, Ramsahai warns frostbite can occur after 10 to 30 minutes of being outside.

“People are dying in the wintertime because of the cold. People are dying, they are sleeping in construction sites because they think it’s warm in there. It’s not warm,” says one of the many taking shelter at the Old Brewery Mission.

They say Montreal needs to invest in long term solutions rather than short term solutions every year.

“They promised lots of things, but they don’t promise shelters for the homeless. They promise subsidized housing…Where are they? I don’t see them being built,” they say.

While the Old Brewery Mission will be doing their best to help those in need, they ask for Montrealers to do their part and keep an eye out for those most vulnerable.

“Everybody can keep an eye open during this weekend. They can stop if they see someone in that person seems unconscious especially this is a case where you call 911 and you don’t want to wait and we don’t want to see anybody freezing to death this weekend,” says Therrien.

– With files from Tina Tenneriello

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