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The Frost Bites

By Briahna McTigue

Winter can be a magical time of year. As soft, powdery snowflakes drift lazily onto the land, our surroundings become swathed in infinite layers of white. In a rather picturesque fashion, the snow adorns every house, street, nook and cranny, remaining superior to any other festive decoration.

Regardless of the wondrous aura that accompanies the idea of a “winter wonderland”, the ramifications of intensely cold weather can chill us to the bone… literally. As E.E. Cummings once wrote, “the snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches”. This statement has certainly proven itself to be true with Montreal’s weather this January, and no one has felt its effects more severely than those living on the street.

Despite the efforts of local organizations to advocate for Montreal’s homeless population, their voices are undeniably underrepresented. Due to stigmas that have been attached to these individuals and their limited resources, self-advocacy can become a nearly impossible feat.

With the cold fronts we’ve been facing, Montreal’s shelters have found themselves at maximum capacity, leaving some stranded in the cold. Due to this, four local Montreal Missions — Old Brewery Mission, Welcome Hall Mission, La Maison du Père, and Accueil Bonneau — rallied together to open a new, temporary shelter. On January 15 of this year, the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services approved the former Royal Victoria Hospital as their new location.

As it is meant to serve as a temporary solution, the shelter will only remain open until mid-April. While fulfilling pressing demands, the shelter is supposed to be a ‘last resort’ option, as its doors only open when other shelters are full. For transportation purposes, the Old Brewery Mission shuttle bus system, will bring clients from the street and other service points to the Royal Vic.

In an interview for The McGill Tribune, Matthew Pearce, chief executive officer (CEO) and president of the Old Brewery Mission, highlighted the “inclusivity” of the shelter: “It is open to men and women, indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples. It is open to transgender people. It is open to homeless people with pets. So, it is trying to catch all, including the people who don’t fit easily into the existing services”.

As is true of many situations, minorities are more commonly the victims of violence and discrimination. For this reason, many opt to stay out of shelters and remain on the street. Albeit wonderful companions, pets also pose an added complication when it comes to staying in a shelter, as most won’t allow them inside. The accommodation of animals at the Royal Victoria shelter is attracting a larger group of individuals as they are unwilling to abandon their pets.

During an interview with a gentleman living on the street, who requested anonymity, he shared that he had only learnt of the new shelter that same day. Despite having found sleeping arrangements for that night, he expressed his relief for the new opening: “Winter is the hardest time of year for me. So many churches I try to stay in don’t let me bring my dog, Princess, with me. We found each other you know? We’re in this together, and I’m not going to leave her alone. Winter is hard but we get through it”.

Winter is a clear expectation every year for Montrealers, yet it is a constant looming fear for the homeless population. Thus, the hope persists, similarly to biting cold, that changes in accommodation will be made so that every citizen of our city can finally live comfortably.

An individual living on the streets uses a blanket to stay warm in the cold weather. Via: Pier Luc/MTLBlog

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