As winter approaches, resources are still lacking
As the first snow of winter starts falling, Montreal’s homeless population grapples with the lack of services offered to them.
At the beginning of November, police started visiting the residents of the homeless camp under Ville-Marie highway. They told them that they would have to leave, and eventually announced their plan to evict the residents on Nov. 10.
The eviction was planned because of construction on Ville-Marie highway. Sarah Bensadoun, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation of Quebec, explained that the camp was on the Ministry’s property, and that they need the residents to leave so they can safely continue constructions.
“The Ministry took the decision to postpone the dismantling of the camp to facilitate the relocalization of its residents and give them time to find resources that will meet their needs,” Bensadoun said. She was unable to say until when the eviction would be postponed to.
She said that the relocalization of the residents was outside the Ministry’s jurisdiction.
“We’re very limited, because there are a lot of elements that are not in the competency of the Ministry of Transports: where they will go, how many places there are [in shelters], when [shelters] will be able to welcome them, etc. We really don’t have that information.”
This announcement sparked action from various community organizations. Some hosted clothing drives and others sent out calls to action. The Montreal Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU), organized a protest against the eviction. Eventually, the eviction was postponed.
“It was quite expected, because there was such a large pushback from the community,” said Sarah, a member of MATU who did not disclose her last name for legal reasons.
While the eviction was postponed, MATU’s protest was not. The union called for a complete cancellation of the eviction.
According to Sarah, “[postponement] is a strategy that we’ve seen multiple times at evictions in order to dilute public outrage. We have a postponement, people forget about it, people move on, and are less likely to react as strongly the second time.”
Na’kuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and co-founder and director of development and philanthropy of Resilience Montreal, is also reluctant to cheer too soon.
“It’s not a victory, per se, because people are still living under a bridge, and it’s really cold outside,” she said. “So it’s not a victory. Nobody wants to live under a bridge.”
She explained that the mobilization lost momentum after the eviction was postponed. Some organizations that had promised a team to help the residents did not show up. “They had a chance to go, and just because the eviction was suspended temporarily, they just stayed home,” added Na’kuset.
She also wished she had seen more shelter directors at MATU’s protest. “If those shelter directors had been there, then they could also give their point of view about the overpopulation of the current shelters and what is actually needed.”
According to Na’kuset, the pending eviction is a symptom of a larger problem: the general lack of resources for the homeless population of Montreal.
“What happens a lot with First Nation communities is that they all point the finger to a different level of government, saying ‘it’s not my job, it’s their job.’ And then nothing actually gets accomplished,” she said.
She pointed out the need for more shelters. This would include shelters for people who are under the influence, for people who have dogs, for women, and for men. It would also include shelters that are open throughout the day instead of just at night.
“That’s not happening, but there’s a million recommendations for it,” said Na’kuset. “The recommendations are out there, you just have to follow them.”
Maryse Paré, director of homelessness prevention and hireability services at the downtown YMCA, leads a team that regularly visits the Ville-Marie camp. While her team was not there on Nov. 10, she explained that they usually go five to six times a week. They check in with residents from tent encampments to see if they need anything or to accompany them to appointments.
Paré also explained that there are three major problems hindering tent encampment residents. Shelters are nearing full capacity, there are not enough apartments, and healthcare services are lacking.
“If these people are in a camp,” she added, “they know the resources, they know that there are shelters, but it isn’t adapted to them. We give them a choice that really isn’t one.”
“Most people wouldn’t survive what they went through,” Paré said. “They made choices, but the choices they had weren’t the same ones others have. They made the best decision they could.”
According to Paré, the camp is more than just a place to live. It represents stability, a home for its residents, and the heart of a community. It is a place for them to bond with others and find a support network.
There is no simple solution for homelessness, said Paré. She thinks there will always be people living in the streets: her goal is to make their time there as short as possible, and to help them reintegrate into society. She would also like to see more focus on prevention, especially for children in difficult situations who might be at risk of experiencing homelessness in their lives.
In the meantime, she encouraged people to volunteer at a shelter or to donate clothes and food, especially now that winter has arrived.
Since 2020, with the camp on Notre-Dame street that stayed up for several months, “we can’t dig our heads in the sand and say, ‘Homelessness doesn’t exist,’” Paré said. “It became very visible, and that shocked a lot of people. Homeless camps have always been there, and they always will be.”
Photo by Marieke Glorieux-Stryckman