Pandemic forces Montreal's homeless shelters forced to adapt Thanksgiving meal plans

Montreal's shelters were forced to adapt their usual plans for Thanksgiving meals on Sunday, even as the city is examining options to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless.

At the Welcome Hall Mission, where members of the Montreal Alouettes traditionally help serve up Thanksgiving dinner each year, it was a very different scene for this edition.

“With social distancing, our cafeteria at the MaCaulay Pavillion that normally holds about 150 at a time, we're serving 12 people at a time,” said director Sam Watts. “There's a constant rotation of people going in and coming out and that's just an unfortunate reality of what we have to do to make sure we keep people safe.”

Former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who now serves as a spokesperson for Dans La Rue, said the pandemic has put strain on the system in other ways, such as fundraising.

“We need other ways to raise money,” he said. “We were supposed to have.... one night with all the sponsors and a lot of people, including myself, passing the night (outdoors) for the cause. Now, we can't do it. We're asking people to give money anyway.”

Montreal's current mayor, Valerie Plante, has said the homeless population has doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic to an estimated 6,000 people.

While some hotels have been used as temporary shelters, Plante said in an interview on talk show Tout Le Monde En Parle on Saturday that she wants to make those permanent to address the crisis.

“I think the mayor is on to something with the idea of hotels,” said Watts. “It's certainly been done successfully and unsuccessfully in other cities. The key is going to be the implementation.”

Watts said the idea's success hinges on looking at how to transition to permanent housing solutions. But with winter immediately ahead, he added that Welcome Hall is looking into overflow shelters.  


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