Coroner to investigate how homeless man died outside, steps from closed shelter

The Quebec coroner is investigating the death of a homeless Innu man whose body was discovered in a portable toilet in the Plateau Sunday morning.

Authorities say Raphaël André, 51, was pronounced dead at the scene, at the corner of Milton Street and Parc Avenue. 

He is originally from the community of Matimekush-Lac John in northern Quebec.

Montreal police determined the death wasn’t criminal and turned the investigation over to the coroner.

André had spent part of Saturday night at The Open Door, said executive director Mélodie Racine. The Montreal drop-in centre is just steps away from where the body was found

Racine said André couldn’t stay because the health authority had forced the shelter to close at 9:30 p.m. following an outbreak of COVID-19. It used to be open 24/7.

“He didn’t die for one reason. There are a lot of factors in place. But what I know is that if he was not asked to leave, he would have probably stayed inside,” she said.

Raphaël André was found unconscious and pronounced dead Sunday morning in the Plateau neighbourhood. (Submitted by John Tessier/The Open Door)

André was a familiar face at the shelter, where staff provided him with food, clothing, a place to shower and emotional comfort, Racine said.

He was seen earlier Saturday, making snowmen outside near the shelter.

“There’s a lot of people in here who are very sad,” said John Tessier, intervention co-ordinator at the Open Door.

“He was respected and people cared about him.”

Tessier said André “wanted to stay” and they would have let him, had they been allowed.

“He would have been here and he wouldn’t have had to die in the toilet,” he said.

In December, a COVID-19 outbreak and a plumbing issue forced the shelter to close. When it reopened in the New Year, it wasn’t allowed to stay open overnight.

In a statement, Montreal public health said it recommended the centre be able to reopen once the outbreak was contained, but did not address whether it made suggestions about the opening hours.

Racine says the shelter needs to be allowed to reopen 24 hours a day, and that they need to be given the tools required to serve their clientele.

“It’s ridiculous. I have a space that is empty at night while there are people sleeping outside.”

Mayor Valérie Plante said in a statement the city is working with public health authorities to ensure the shelter is able to reopen through the night.

She said the man’s death highlights the need for improved access to services during the pandemic.

The city has opened up more shelter space during the pandemic, with two hotels now serving the city’s homeless population. The old Royal Victoria hospital also has more beds available.

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