Front line workers in Montreal say not enough is being done to keep homeless safe from COVID-19

Front line workers who help the city’s homeless say the province isn’t doing enough to protect those people who live on the streets from contracting COVID-19.

The province is the epicentre of the breakout in Canada with 1,339 cases and six deaths. Only Ontario with nine and British Columbia with 13 have more.

The homeless population in one of Canada’s largest cities is disproportionately made up of First Nation and Inuit people.

“It’s going to go rampant in the homeless community,” said Nakuset, co-manager of the Resilience Centre. “And we really want to go proactive and make sure that our people on the streets are being taken care of.”

The Resilience Centre opened in November 2019 to serve the Indigenous homeless population.

Nakuset said the staff is doing the best it can – but need more help.

“If we were allowed to have the service of testing here then we could pass on that message and we would also have a way to refer people saying ‘hey we got your test results back, you need to go to the isolation unit,’” she said.

Montreal does have public testing stations in the downtown core for people who have symptoms.

But Nakuset says even if homeless people do go, few have phones they can be reached on if the test comes back positive.

On Tuesday, a homeless man who tested positive for COVID-19 was found by police waiting in line at a shelter.

An isolation and screening unit at a closed hospital is being prepared by the city but it’s not ready yet.

John Tessier works at the Open Door Shelter, another day centre that serves many Inuit who are homeless.

He said asking people living on the streets to practice social distancing isn’t always practical.

“If there’s a crew that sleeps all outside together all huddled up, there’s not a lot of sense to separate when they come into the shelter,” said Tessier. “So it’s just like if you live with somebody you’re able to be with them.”

Tessier added that the Open Door only has enough hand sanitizer to get them through this week.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the province has the supplies but distribution has been difficult.

As for the homeless, he said the province is working on a plan.

“We are very aware of the challenge there,” Legault said in French. “We  are discussing it, and we are currently dealing with it.”

For the Resilience Centre, the hope is help comes sooner rather than later.

“I think that the whole system is overloaded and it feels like our population is the last that anyone is sort of taking into consideration,” said Nakuset.

Watch this report on Kahnawake by Lindsay Richardson