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Man freezes to death mere steps away from shelter after public health makes beds off-limits at night

The shelter's staff revealed that he had a meal and a shower at the facility before they had to ask him to leave due to Quebec's current regime of public health rules which required the shelter to close its doors at 9.30 pm.

Man freezes to death mere steps away from shelter after public health makes beds off-limits at night
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

A man froze to death overnight just steps away from a downtown Montreal shelter where he'd been keeping warm. Fifty-one-year-old Raphael Andre died tragically on Saturday after the shelter's staff was forced to kick him out at night due to Quebec's current regime of public health rules which required the shelter to close its doors at 9.30 pm. According to CTV News, the staff at the Open Door shelter on Parc Ave— where Andre was a regular — revealed that he had a meal and a shower at the facility before they had to ask him to leave. "Raphael, because he was under the influence, fell asleep in a porta-potty just a minute away from the shelter," said Heather Brunet, who works at the shelter.

 



 

"He froze to death in the porta-potty... when he could have been here, but instead, because of these [public health] regulations, we weren't allowed to have clients here overnight," Brunet added. Before the pandemic, the Open Door shelter used to be open all night for people in need of food, clothing, laundry services, safe shelter, etc. Although it originally did not have facilities for people to sleep, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, it equipped its shelter with Plexiglass barriers and 65 beds to protect individuals from the risk of getting infected on the street.

 



 

However, according to Montreal Public Health, a recommendation was issued to The Open Door earlier this month to temporarily suspend its nighttime program due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among clients and staff. A spokesperson for Montreal Public Health stated that the shelter's board of directors agreed to suspend the program and that 10 days later, on January 12, Health issued a recommendation that the shelter re-open at night if it met sanitary guidelines. Meanwhile, a newly introduced 8 pm nightly curfew across the province has made finding beds for homeless Montrealers even more difficult.

 



 

Staff at the Open Door said on Monday that they'd heard various reports about what happened to Andre on the night of his death, including the possibility of violence, in addition to the cold and his inebriation. John Tessier, who works at the shelter, pointed out that what is clear at the moment is that Andre would've been safe and alive if the shelter had been open as usual. "Every day last week he was the last person out of the door, oftentimes wanting to stay. If we'd have been open, he definitely would have been sleeping inside the center overnight," said Tessier. "When people are inside, if there's any type of distress, we're able to assist them -- there's people observing them all night and there for support."

 



 

"Unfortunately, this man was forced to be outside and passed away in a public toilet, when he could have been inside in safety," Tessier added. He explained that although authorities have been making an effort to get people to the available shelter beds with special shuttle buses, the last one leaves around 9 pm — half an hour before the Open Door closes. Moreover, sometimes when people do arrive at the night shelters, they're told there are no more beds. "It breaks our heart to send people into the bitter-cold winter of Montreal, and after curfew, at the risk of getting tickets," Tessier said. "As we see, this is life-and-death for some people."

 



 

Nakuset, the director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal who revealed that Andre was Innu, said that the past few months have been adding up to a deadly combination, with the curfew, shelter resources stretched thin, and services cut back due to COVID-19 rules. "I was really afraid that disaster would happen before the government did something, and now that disaster has happened," she said. "Maybe he called out for help and no one heard him because he was alone."

 



 

Montreal Public Health spokesman Eric Forest stated that on January 12, Health issued a recommendation to the local homelessness services board "supporting a possible reopening" of the Open Door overnight if it met health guidelines. "This recommendation is currently being evaluated by the Montreal health network," he said. Meanwhile, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said in a statement that the city was already looking at reopening the "warming station" of the Open Door overnight but didn't elaborate on whether the city wanted to reopen the beds or just to make the shelter accessible overnight. "I am terribly saddened by this death and I offer my sincere condolences to his loved ones and to his entire community," Plante said.

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