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Montreal hotel for homeless Indigenous population to open in 2 weeks

Montreal hotel for homeless Indigenous population to open in 2 weeks-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Shelters are struggling to keep up with demand during the Omicron wave. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A Montreal hotel, set up to welcome homeless Indigenous people in February, will be opening its doors ahead of schedule.

As of Jan. 24, the non-profit Projets Autochtones du Québec (PAQ) will be moving its services to Montreal’s Hôtel des Arts, where it will provide 50 emergency beds.

“We will be able to provide private rooms, private washrooms and three meals a day,” said Heather Johnston, executive director of PAQ.

By moving its services to the hotel, PAQ will free up space at the Guy-Favreau complex, which will become available for the health network’s use if necessary.

“We know there’s a great and urgent need. This is what we had hoped for,” Marykim Gaudreault, a spokesperson for Montreal’s executive committee, said, adding that other projects of this kind are being studied.

Director of Projects Autochtones du Quebec-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Heather Johnston, executive director of Projets Autochtones du Québec, says she’s relieved by the move. (Marie-Laure Josselin/Radio-Canada)

Currently, the PAQ is only open overnight from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., but after the move, the organization’s services will be accessible 24/7.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) will be funding the rooms, Johnston says, but the ministry did not confirm the costs of the project by publication time.

PAQ will also install a heating tent on land adjacent to the hotel, where guests may drink alcohol under supervision. Four to five first responders and security guards will be on site.

Homeless-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Projets Autochtones Québec will also be offering culturally adapted services to people staying at the shelter. (Carl Boivin/Radio-Canada)

Johnston says PAQ will also be offering culturally adapted services, including inviting an elder from Kahnawake to visit the site once or twice a week as needed.

“We try to make sure as much as possible that the intervention workers are Indigenous, but it’s not easy,” she said. “All non-Indigenous employees are trained on Indigenous peoples’ reality, their history and generational trauma.”

But the health crisis has complicated PAQ’s plans. Initially, the hotel was only intended to receive people experiencing homelessness who had not contracted COVID-19, but now that will depend on public health’s screening capacity.

Johnston says that despite making repeated requests, PAQ users have not been tested since Dec. 21.

“We have asked public health, on several occasions, to come do tests,” she said. “Maybe they’re overwhelmed. But what frustrates me the most is that there are screenings being done in other shelters and not ours.”

The organization has to make the most of around 100 rapid tests, whereas 70 people visit the PAQ’s shelter everyday.

“We’re completely blind,” she said.

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