COVID-19: Are Montreal homeless being shortchanged?

Montreal homeless

Montreal homeless – Among the many announcements made by the federal government regarding financial assistance to various groups and institutions, there was the $157.5 million earmarked for the homelessness front line. Of that money, $21.4 million were transferred to Quebec.  However, although Montreal is the region with the largest homeless population in the province (anything between 3,000 to 4,000 people), it has received only around 32 per cent of that amount (7 million).

“I have no explanation for that decision,” told me Matthew Pearce, Chief Executive Officer of the Old Brewery Mission, and added “the government owes an explanation as to why this happened. The federal government has assigned these funds to those organizations that are on the homelessness front line, the decision by the Quebec government is incomprehensible.”

The irruption of COVID-19 has not only added new tasks to the staff working with the homeless, but it has also prevented organizations such as the Old Brewery Mission to stage fundraising activities. This situation has created an additional strain on its resources. This organization may now run a one-million-dollar deficit — a condition that may seriously affect its operations.

Mr. Pearce underlined the fact that at his organization, there was only one case of a homeless person who had caught COVID-19, but that highlights the hard work done by the staff. “And they deserve an acknowledgement in the form of a risk bonus, like other people working in senior homes or in grocery stores” pointed Mr. Pearce. He also emphasized that these organizations providing assistance to the homeless have been declared an essential service by the government.

The reduced funding to the Montreal front line by the Quebec government may seriously compromise various services provided by the organizations that work with homeless people.  As stated in a press release: “Services for the homeless population (food, emergency shelter, housing supply, adapted health services, etc.); better pay for front-line workers, who are dealing not only with homeless individuals but increasingly with entire families, who come to temporary facilities such as the one at Place du Canada/St. George’s Church for meals; and measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

At the time of writing this piece, the Quebec Minister for Health and Social Services, Danielle McCann had not replied to the demands for explanations about the allocation of these funds. However, taking into account that during a pandemic homeless people are one of the most vulnerable segments of the population, it seems indeed illogical that most of the funding had not been allocated where the needs are greatest. It is up to Ms. McCann now to rectify this anomalous situation. Disregarding the claim of those working with the homeless at this time might bring critical consequences not only for beneficiaries of those services and the workers who provide them but also to the rest of the population, since a socially vulnerable group left unattended at this time, may, in fact, contribute to the spread of the virus.

By: Sergio Martinez – [email protected]

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