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Second death of Montreal homeless person this month as shelters fight cold, pandemic

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MONTREAL — A second person experiencing homelessness in Montreal has died this month after being found outside in frigid temperatures, authorities said Friday.

The chief executive officer of local non-profit Welcome Hall Mission identified the woman as Stella Stosik.

Sam Watts, CEO of the mission, said Stosik had frequented a hotel his group operated last year for the homeless. She died not far from the hotel, he said.

"When we ran the hotel between November 2020 and July 2021, Stella was a regular guest," Watts said.

"We didn't learn much about her trajectory, and when the hotel closed, all the people who had been regularly at the hotel were transferred or referred to other services."

The cause of Stosik's death was not clear. Ambulance service spokesperson Sébastien Coulombe said a 911 call alerted paramedics to a woman in her 60s early Thursday morning in downtown Montreal.

Medics found her in cardiopulmonary arrest near a metro station and she was pronounced dead shortly after.

Coulombe said the woman was wearing several layers of clothing for protection against the extreme temperature, which had dropped below -20 C with the wind chill. Environment Canada forecasted extreme wind chills of -38 C to -40 C into Saturday.

Police said there wasn't anything criminal apparent in her death and that the coroner's office would investigate. It's the second death of someone experiencing homelessness in Montreal in a 10-day span. A 74-year-old man on Jan. 10 was found in a makeshift camp under a city overpass and died later in hospital.

Montreal's homeless shelters are packed to the brim, said the Old Brewery Mission's James Hughes. A confluence of factors — deep cold, high COVID-19 transmission, shelter staff shortages and a tough housing market — are contributing to the problems on the ground.

"All to say this is creating as intense a time in the homeless sector as we've ever seen," Hughes said in an interview. "The emergency facilities like the Old Brewery and others on both the women's and the men's sides are full."

Hughes said the mission does its best to find a spot for everyone every night. Despite COVID-19 protocols and space limitations, everyone is allowed inside during the intense cold snap.

He said he did not know Stosik, but he noted there were lots of services in the area where she died, including the mission's own women's pavilion.

"If she had been brought there or banged on that door, she would've been let in," he said.

Hughes said her death shows the need for more street workers who can build relationships with homeless people to get them off the street.

For Watts, Stosik's death is yet another signal the city's services for the homeless need to be reformed.

"It's a 19th-century charity model and we need to get into a 21st-century solution model that's built on the principles of urban health care rather than on the principles of handouts," Watts said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2022.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press