Student Life

Emergency shelter to open for winter at former Royal Victoria Hospital

After a successful pilot project last winter, the overflow homeless shelter at the former Royal Victoria Hospital is set to reopen for another winter season. The emergency shelter will open its doors on Dec. 2, with around 150 beds available until April 15. The overflow shelter will be open to individuals in a state of inebriation, those with substance abuse disorders, and those with pets. 

“This [shelter] is a low-barrier, high-access service,” Matthew Pearce, president and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission, said. “[It] is intended to support existing shelters in Montreal, which are typically in greater demand during the winter months.”

As extreme cold sets in, most of Montreal’s emergency homeless shelters meet and exceed capacity. The overflow shelter will continue to operate in partnership with local health authorities, homeless organizations, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and the Montreal police.

The pilot project, which operated from January to April 2019, had over 1500 unique clients inhabit the shelter in the historic Ross Pavilion at the old Royal Victoria Hospital. The project was spearheaded by four Montreal homeless missions: The Old Brewery Mission, the Welcome Hall Mission, Maison du Père, and the Accueil Bonneau. 

Statistics collected over the course of the project were published in a recent report by the Old Brewery Mission’s research department. They found that 55 per cent of interviewed participants self-declared as alcoholics and used the overflow unit frequently. In addition, 85 per cent of the respondents felt that the overflow shelter should stay open year-round. 

The researchers suggested that the temporary shelter provided a service for homeless individuals that was missing in Montreal for homeless individuals and found that the Royal Victoria project highlighted an absence of lower barrier shelter options in the city. Although a majority of women reported feeling safe at the Royal Victoria project, one third reported the opposite . The upcoming project in December will offer goods and services adapted specifically to women’s needs, including a women-only floor.

Recent surveys in Quebec have shed light on the multifaceted dimensions of the homelessness issue in Montreal. As of 2018, there were 3,149 individuals visibly living on the streets in Montreal, making up over half of Quebec’s total homeless population. A study conducted by Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services found that Indigenous people, immigrants, refugees, and queer individuals were over-represented in Quebec’s homeless population. Although Indigenous people make up less than one per cent of the general population, they represent approximately 10 per cent of Montreal’s homeless.

“Right now, housing is the largest service offered by the Old Brewery Mission, bigger than our emergency housing service,” Pearce said. “[…] The [overflow] shelter is not a solution, it is a band-aid. [Our priority] is getting affordable and available housing and not needing homeless shelters in the future.” 

Every year, missions like the Old Brewery depend on volunteers who help these organizations deliver their services, raise funds and provide administrative support. Students interested in volunteering for the Old Brewery Mission can reach the organization by emailing [email protected]

More information about the shelter project is available on the Old Brewery Mission website.

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