A group of citizens who met on social media are distributing free meals in Cabot Square, prompting opposition leaders to ask the city to step up its response to growing homelessness in Montreal.
Rose Cormier and Diane Gervais are part of the team of four volunteers from Saint-Henri who met on a Facebook page for people living in the neighbourhood.
They’ve been handing out free food every Saturday and Sunday since early September, spurred by a bench installed by the city this summer that was designed to prevent people from lying down on it.
The bench was taken down hours later after receiving a barrage of criticism on social media and from homelessness advocates.
Mayor Valérie Plante apologized and blamed the previous administration for ordering the bench. Cormier and Gervais told CBC it made them realize there seemed to be more and more people living without a home in the city.
“There’s a crisis and we’re trying to answer it,” Cormier said.
“Our 100 lunches went in 10 minutes last week and there were people who didn’t get any,” added Gervais.
The group has raised funds to help with the initiative. They’ve also partnered with local restaurants and have recently gotten help from Sikh humanitarian organization Khalsa Aid.
On Saturday, they were distributing hot coffee, bagged lunches and fresh pizza to the 50 or so people who showed up to the park at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Atwater streets.
Benoit Langevin, the Ensemble Montreal city councillor for Pierrefonds-Roxboro, was there and decried what he says is a lack of resources for homeless people during the second wave of the pandemic.
“We’re wondering why the city isn’t co-ordinating this,” he said.
More action needed
Langevin said Plante’s plan to set up 500 temporary beds in hotels once again isn’t enough, and pointed out she didn’t say when they would be available.
“Why not make those permanent?” he asked.
The city announced in August it would once again open temporary winter shelters at the old Royal Victoria hospital site, in Complexe Guy-Favreau on René-Levesque Boulevard and the YMCA in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Altogether, the shelters will be able to accommodate 315 beds.
Youssef Amane, a city spokesperson, said in an email the city would be coming up with more measures for the winter shortly.