“Not a dollar, not a bar of soap, not a pair of hands”: homeless defenders become desperate

"Not a dollar, not a bar of soap, not a pair of hands": homeless defenders become desperate

People who work with Aboriginals living on the streets of Montreal say that they feel abandoned by governments that are trying to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We got nothing – not a dollar, not a bar of soap, not an extra pair of hands,” said Allison Reid, executive director of the Montreal Native Community NETWORK.

Reid said that she knows that there are many people at all levels of government who are trying to meet the needs of homeless Aboriginal people.

But two weeks after the World Health Organization declared the spread of the new coronavirus a global pandemic, no help arrived.

Overflowing Resilience Day Center

Because service providers are unable to enforce the directive that clients must keep their distance from each other, some shelters have had no choice but to close or reduce the number of people who ‘they accept.

This is the situation at Resilience Montreal, a day center that operates next to the place where many homeless people tend to congregate, in Cabot Square.

On Thursday, Résilience Montréal set up tables on Place Cabot, distributing food to street people who find themselves without a place to go under COVID-19 isolation. (Simon Martel / CBC)

With the province on hiatus, more and more people in need of services come to Resilience, seeking help, said co-manager Nakuset.

“No one is allowed to enter the buildings anymore. There is no room left for these people,” said Nakuset.

Overwhelmed, Résilience Montréal was forced to close in order to avoid becoming a place where the new coronavirus spreads.

Staff moved tables and chairs to Cabot Square to serve food and hot drinks, and responders provided advice and information on the pandemic. But Nakuset said that more had to happen.

“It’s not enough to give someone a sandwich and say,” Good luck with that. “But that’s pretty much what’s going on here.”

Many do not understand what is going on. Some people downplay it, she said, while others think it’s the end of the world.

“We want a place where they can go to isolate themselves, where they can escape the elements, which can be a safe place for them,” said Nakuset.

With everything closed, so many people arrive at Resilience Montreal that the day center on Place Cabot was forced to close its doors and move outside, to avoid overcrowding. (Simon Martel / Radio-Canada)

Volunteers don’t step up

The City of Montreal has said that finding ways to protect people living on the streets is a major concern.

“We are working to support the Cabot Square resilience center, in order to meet the basic needs of vulnerable people,” said Laurence Houde-Roy, spokesperson for Mayor Valérie Plante, in a statement sent Thursday evening.

“We are currently working on opening other locations within a short time.”

She said that 24 public toilets have been installed in the city, so that people have a place to wash. Other measures are under development.

The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, on the right, and Horacio Arruda, the director of public health for the province, called on Thursday Quebecers who are able to volunteer with groups in need of help. But advocates for the homeless say that few have come forward so far. (Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press)

On Thursday, in his daily briefing, the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, encouraged people able to volunteer in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis to come forward, providing the link to a website to get people who have time to volunteer at places like food banks.

But advocates for the homeless say that so far, volunteers are scarce.

They are asking for donations of blankets, warm clothing and food.

Reid of Montreal Indigenous Community NETWORK said their group is looking for people to cook large pots of soups, chili, spaghetti sauce – even baking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made on bread soft.

It’s a cry for help that Reid said she would never do under normal circumstances.

“We would never ask people to make food at home and to donate to our centers,” said Reid. “But the risks are already far too great and we really need all the help we can get.”

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