We often see them on the metros, street corners and in alleyways. We usually ignore them to avoid guilt and perhaps uncomfortable conversations. According to a 2015 study commissioned by Mayor Denis Coderre’s administration, there are 3,016 homeless people in Montreal. Those are the same homeless people we see every day and, unfortunately, often ignore.
In 2014, city workers installed “anti-loitering” spikes that were meant to deter people from sitting in certain areas. They were removed after receiving backlash from Coderre, as he called the spikes “anti-homeless,” since many homeless people often sleep near those areas. The same mayor is now heavily focusing on homelessness in Montreal for his municipal election campaign. According to the Montreal Gazette, Coderre promised to sleep on the city’s streets to show he has the homeless in mind. And, more importantly, he is now considering implementing wet shelters in Montreal. Wet shelters allow homeless alcoholics to consume alcohol under supervision, with the goal of gradually lowering their dependence on the substance.
The Toronto Star reported such shelters already exist in Toronto and Ottawa, and work well in those cities. The wet shelters would be similar to safe injecting sites, where addicts can reduce harm when using substances. Along with the wet shelters, Coderre also has new initiatives to reduce homelessness in Montreal, according to CTV News. These include a second census of Montreal’s homeless population, 400 more spaces in rooming houses, and services aimed at youth, the LGBTQ+ community, women and Indigenous communities.
We at The Concordian think it’s great that Coderre wants to address homelessness in Montreal, and we hope his initiatives are carried out. It’s promising to see that he’s interested in improving the conditions for homeless people, but we hope he doesn’t get distracted by theatrics.
It’s also important to realize that, although Montreal’s mayor is now focusing on homelessness in the city, other community members have been doing so for a while—and have affected real change. Toe2Toe, for example, is a non-profit organization run by Chris Costello, a Montrealer. The initiative focuses on giving homeless people proper footwear, namely socks—a piece of clothing that’s often overlooked. According to their website, since 2014, the organization “has raised thousands of dollars and collected more than 15,000 pairs of socks for the homeless.” The organization also speaks to various community groups in order to raise awareness about homelessness and the importance of proper footwear.
Another community member, Gilles Chiasson, started a knitting group that aims to let homeless people know they aren’t ignored by the Montreal community. Chiasson has experienced homelessness, according to the Montreal Gazette, and he said he hopes to protect homeless people from cold weather with sweaters, leg warmers and hats. However, the knitting group’s main goal is to form a sense of connection between homeless people and the rest of the community. In the same article, Chiasson explained that homeless people often don’t feel connected to their families or community. He said he believes that if a homeless person receives something that was hand-knitted for them, it will make them feel like someone is attempting to connect with them, and that someone cares.
There was also the recent launch of the online tool 2000Solutions that illustrates data and information about homeless people in Montreal. The organization also aims to house 2,000 homeless people by the year 2020, and they want to prove it is possible to change a homeless person’s life.
Ultimately, it’s important to note that there have been efforts by community members in past years to eradicate homelessness, or at least raise awareness. Groups like Toe2Toe, Chiasson’s knitting group and 2000Solutions are just some of the ways Montrealers have tried to help fellow Montrealers. We at The Concordian strongly hope Coderre, if re-elected, follows through with his initiatives to improve the conditions of homelessness in our city.
We hope he sticks to his promises. A determined mayor can play a big role in helping us come together and help our fellow community members. And more importantly, we hope this editorial has made you wonder what more you can do to help the homeless.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin