The Raphaël Napa André memorial: One year later

A 51-year-old man froze to death as a result of our collective failure, has anything changed?

The future of the Raphaël “Napa” André warming tent remains uncertain, community members call for permanent solutions. Photo By Thomas Quinn

“It was shocking to hear that he froze to death. It’s hard being on the streets. It’s especially hard when you see your own family struggling on the streets,” said Gloria André, Raphaël “Napa” André’s cousin.

Raphaël “Napa” André was a 51-year-old Innu homeless man who froze to death just steps away from the Open Door shelter on Jan. 17, 2021. 

He was not allowed inside the shelter because public health officials ordered it be closed overnight due to the pandemic. He was found dead in a nearby portable toilet. One year later, a memorial was held in honour of Raphaël “Napa” André outside the heated tent that was erected in Cabot Square in Downtown Montreal. It started at 2 p.m. and there were approximately two dozen people in attendance.

“They assumed that everyone would be able to find a place to stay at a shelter,” said Nakuset, the director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and co-manager of Resilience Montreal. 

“The Legault government was not aware that there were not enough shelters,” she said, “It was ignorance. No one sent him notes on what the statistics are about the overflow of shelters and that continues—there is still not enough space.”

Nakuset acknowledged that although the heated tent was undoubtedly necessary, what this community urgently needs is buildings, more wet shelters and more services. 

She explained that there are hardly any wet shelters, spaces that remain open to people who have been consuming alcohol, available in the city. Dry shelters are shelters that refuse access to people who have been consuming alcohol and are vital to those who are sober or are attempting to be sober. The problem with dry shelters is that by refusing access to these people, they alienate an entire at-risk population. 

Nakuset asked Mayor Valérie Plante for a building in April. Though she’s raised enough money for the heated tent in Cabot Square to continue operating until March 31, she doesn’t know what will happen after then.

Gloria André also spoke at the memorial. She described Raphaël as being someone who was always using humour to lighten the mood and as “the life of the party.” Gloria is Raphaël’s only family member who also resides in Montreal, having lived here since 2018. She described her experience as an indigenous homeless person as degrading, claiming that people in her community are treated as second-class citizens. 

David Chapman, another speaker at the memorial, is the Executive Director of Resilience Montreal, a space for the homeless community that occupies Cabot Square. Chapman expressed the need for localized solutions and his disapproval of the heated tent in Cabot Square being labelled a “band-aid” by the media.

“What happens in the world of homelessness is that there are limited funds available and then you encounter competition for these limited funds,” he said. “Some folks think we should invest all of the limited funds into long-term housing but the issue with that is people will freeze to death in the cold before they are given long-term housing.”