An unrealistic curfew ? Living in the streets in the middle of a pandemic

Photo par Nathan Dumlao sur Unsplash

 

Due to Quebec being under maximum alert, a curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m started on January 9th. A first in Quebec, this curfew has raised several questions about the effects it could have on homeless people. Indeed, when the curfew was first announced, the Legault government asserted that the measure will also apply to them, indicating that they should find a spot in a shelter. To better understand the current reality of homeless people, shelters, as well as how the curfew might have impacted the situation, we spoke with Mélodie Racine, director of The Open Door shelter and France Labelle, general director of Refuge des Jeunes de Montréal.

Although the local authorities of certain municipalities, including the SPVM, have announced that they will show comprehension in their interactions with this community, high fines have nonetheless been given to homeless individuals. According to Mélodie Racine, these penalties will not change reality and she characterizes them as “unjustified paperwork”. Especially since people experiencing homelessness cannot afford to pay a fine that’s between $ 1,000 and $ 6,000.

A week after the curfew was implemented, a tragedy that many mediators feared occurred. On the night of Saturday to Sunday, a man who was identified as Raphaël André was found dead and frozen in a chemical toilet at the corner of Milton Street and Parc avenue, near The Open Door shelter, where he was a frequent visitor.

In an interview preceding this tragedy, the director of The Open Door, Mélodie Racine, told us that her shelter was supposed to act as a "heat stop from December 1st to March 31st", but says that following a Covid-19 eclosion, public health forced the shelter to not "reopen with the same capacity or with the same hours". According to her, the fact that a "warm, safe, controlled, controllable space" such as her shelter must remain closed at night is an aberration because there are not enough places in the shelters to accommodate the entire homeless population.

While the shelters’ situation was already precarious, and with homeless people being marginalized, the pandemic has worsened the overall conditions of homelessness. "The lower we are on the social ladder and the more we are in need, the harder a pandemic like Covid will strike, will strike hard." mentions the director of Refuge des Jeunes de Montréal, France Labelle. Due to the pandemic, shelters have had to reduce their bed capacity by 50%. This reduction was felt, particularly since there were not enough places in shelters to accommodate all the homeless individuals before this crisis (and that’s without counting all those who found themselves homeless due to the pandemic). However, despite the opening of new shelters, there are still not enough places. France Labelle also mentions that every evening, there are at least fifteen young people that the shelter cannot accommodate due to this problem.

This curfew is unrealistic. Not only do shelters not have the capacity to accommodate everyone that’s experiencing homelessness, but certain persons in that situation also do not have access to new Covid-related information. Even though many petitions and requests have circulated online, including a petition whose goal is to exempt the application of the curfew for people experiencing homelessness, as well as a request from the mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, the provincial government still refuses to change its position on a curfew exemption for homeless individuals, indicating that anyone could use this reason to end up outside after 8 p.m..

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