Open Letter to Valérie Plante on Cold-Weather Measures
Cold-weather measures that send a chill down your spine
We are speaking out against the City of Montreal's cold-weather measures for individuals experiencing homelessness, which endanger women's physical safety as well as their dignity. For several years, multiple women's groups have dedicated their time and energy to advocating for those experiencing homelessness. Once again, we see that their expertise and recommendations have been ignored. The cold-weather measures, much like those implemented in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, do not account for women's experiences.
Currently, one floor and a shuttle service are reserved for women at the Place Dupuis hotel. However, conditions at the shelter cause many women to turn away. Our concerns center primarily around the removal of doors in the bathrooms and of the doorknobs to every room, as well as the omnipresence of security guards who enter rooms during the night. While the justification for these measures are presented as concerns for safety and overdose prevention, existing shelter resources successfully make use of less imposing measures. These measures make a restful stay all but impossible and create far larger security issues as people must share their room with strangers and have no right to privacy.
Secondly, we consider it a major problem that people must wait in line for hours to access a room. Not only are these individuals left exposed to the cold, poor weather and potential outbreaks of COVID-19, this wait means they get a bed much later and reduces the amount of time they're able to rest before the shelter closes the following morning. In addition, this long wait frightens many women due to the tensions and violent situations that can often break out within the line, or even with nearby residents and businesses. This summer, staggered arrival times were offered to avoid endless line-ups and accommodate those needing more rest. It is far too cold now to make hundreds of people wait outside for hours just to have access to a room for the night.
Faced with these indecent and inhumane conditions, we worry that women will increasingly refuse to use these resources and may, for example, go back to living with a violent person, especially since the dismantling of the Notre-Dame tent city has made camping increasingly difficult, if not impossible. We urge the City of Montreal to act immediately to re-establish decent and humane shelter conditions for people experiencing homelessness, regardless of the weather.
Let us not forget that, in 2018-2019, women's shelters had to turn down more than 35,000 requests due to lack of space and that this number has continued to grow during the pandemic. A growing number of women have had to turn to mixed-gender resources where they do not feel safe. Women's shelters are overdue for adequate financing that will allow them to respond to the needs of women in difficult situations throughout the year, avoiding the cyclical reapplication of inadequate emergency measures year after year.
Sandra Babin, Réseau habitation femmes
Marie-Eve Desroches, Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal
Diana Lombardi, Réseau d’action des femmes en santé et services sociaux
Sally Richmond, Logifem