Concordia turns down student initiative to convert Grey Nuns residence into homeless shelter
Refusal comes as petition for project amasses 12,000 supporters
Concordia declined John Molson School of Business student David Desjardins’ proposal to use the Grey Nuns building as a homeless shelter in an email response on Feb 2.
Desjardins’ petition—which, as of Feb. 7, has over 12,000 signatures—calls for the university to use the Grey Nuns residence building as a temporary shelter for Montreal’s homeless population. The residence, located near the Guy-Concordia metro, has close to 600 beds, as well as a cafeteria, washing machines, showers, and a reading room that can house up to 240 people.
“I firmly believe that by using Concordia University's Grey Nuns residence as a temporary homeless shelter, we will save lives,” the petition’s description reads. “If we refuse to act now, every single one of us will have blood on our hands.”
In their response, Concordia stated the facilities could not be used as a shelter “in their current state.”
“We at Concordia share your concerns about homelessness in Montreal,” the message said, “and wish we could be part of the solution.”
“It didn’t feel like a valid response,” said Desjardins. “For all 600 rooms to not be available because the building is under maintenance seems a little ridiculous.”
“Grey Nuns is built on Indigenous land, and we have Indigenous people out here freezing to death. We could easily give them somewhere to stay, but instead we’re just more comfortable to say ‘I acknowledge that I’m on Indigenous land.’ It’s just extremely frustrating to see. — David Desjardins
When asked to elaborate on the statement, Concordia spokesperson Vannina Maestracci told The Link that the current layout of the residence did not lend itself to social distancing. Maestracci also claimed that renovations were taking place in the building, which would not be complete for another few months.
Widespread concern for Montreal’s homeless population surged after the death of Raphael Andre, 51, an Innu man who froze to death in a portable toilet near Milton St. and Park Ave.
“Grey Nuns is built on Indigenous land,” said Desjardins, “and we have Indigenous people out here freezing to death. We could easily give them somewhere to stay, but instead we’re just more comfortable to say ‘I acknowledge that I’m on Indigenous land.’ It's just extremely frustrating to see.”
Premier François Legault has been criticized for his handling of the city’s homeless population during the pandemic, refusing to exempt homeless people from the 8 p.m. curfew.
Until recently, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that the curfew would not be applied to homeless people. However, the Court’s mandate expired on Feb 5. Legault has since extended the curfew until Feb 22.
Reports of numerous homeless Montreal residents unable to find space in existing shelters have surfaced since the curfew began. The Pierre Charbonneau sports arena, converted into a temporary shelter in January, is projected to house up to 122 people. The Old Royal Victoria Hospital has increased capacity from 25 to 100 people.
Desjardins will be meeting with city officials on Tuesday to discuss his initiative, as well as to learn more about procuring the permits necessary to establish a shelter. He is also in contact with an organization that manages shelters in Montreal, who have expressed interest in the project, provided Concordia’s cooperation.
With files from Mzwandile Poncana.