Defying mayor's deadline, tent city campers say they'll leave when she provides housing
MONTREAL -- Several dozen people are defying the city’s orders to take down a makeshift tent city in Hochelaga.
Some have confronted Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante with a challenge—they’ll leave, if she finds them housing to go to.
“The only thing she offers us is shelters, so we said no,” said one camper, Jacques Brochu.
The camp, which is along Notre-Dame St., got its first tents two months ago but only began to balloon in early August.
It now has around 60 tents, and more are arriving all the time, even as the mayor’s deadline of midnight Monday comes and goes.
Mayor Plante had said she was willing to use force to break up the camp, but there was no sign of that kind of activity late Monday.
Brochu was one of the first people to arrive in late June. He says he’s built a nice life along Notre-Dame, cooking homemade meals and hanging out with the neighbouring campers.
“I’m happy here,” he told CTV. “I’m always smiling, making jokes… and making my home nice.”
Along the way, the makeshift village appears not to have made many enemies in the surrounding neighbourhood. Several neighbours told CTV they supported the campers’ right to be there.
“These people should stay,” said one Hochelaga resident, Louis Bourque, on Monday.
“They’re just people who face the structural condition of the housing market,” he said. “They collaborate with everyone. They clean up the parks, they offer food.”
Much of that food is prepared by Guylain Levasseur, another central figure in the encampment who is himself housed in a tent. He’s been using donations from the community to serve everyone.
“Last night we gave 200 coffees for people living in the tent[s],” he said Monday.
Levasseur is also one of the people openly defying the mayor. He’s asking her to let the camp stay up until she can find proper housing for them. The stakes don’t seem too high, he said.
“One more month… and… at worst the winter is going to clear the place,” he said.
One longtime shelter director disagrees, saying leaving the tent city up is setting a bad precedent.
“I think the harm is legitimizing tent cities in Montreal as a viable option for homeless people,” said Matthew Pearce, the CEO of the Old Brewery Mission.
“Spring will come after winter… and summer will follow spring and we don’t want to see this to become an annual reoccurrence as we have seen in other North American cities.”
Montreal’s housing market is historically tough right now, with the lowest vacancy rates in a decade and a half and average rent rising very quickly for new leases.