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MONTREAL -- Montreal police handed out several tickets to homeless youth over the past week for violating physical distancing rules but advocates say that for many on the streets, self-isolation isn't a choice.
Cecile Arbaud, director of Dans La Rue, an organization which works with homeless youth, said she knows of eight tickets given out at Papineau Metro station on Wednesday, with each being for nearly $1,600.
“It's very counter-productive because first they have nowhere to go, they're already in great distress and they won't be able to pay this ticket,” she said.
Arbaud said self-isolation is difficult for those without a home, especially as Dans La Rue and other similar organizations scale back their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Librairies, stores, restaurants are closed, too,” she said. “They have nowhere to go but community organizations and the streets.”
Welcome Hall Mission CEO Sam Watts said ticketing the homeless is a worrisome practice, regardless of their age.
“When people are not respecting the directives of the government with respect to social distancing, that's not necessarily a good thing,” he said. “However, having said that, it's not terribly productive to hand out tickets.”
Watts called on police to redirect officers handing out tickets on the streets towards more helpful ends.
Montreal police said their approach is preventative, with warnings issued first and tickets only handed out if warnings aren't heeded. The decision of whether to hand out a fine is left to an officer's discretion on whether doing so is in the interest of public health.
Native Women's Shelter Executive Director Nakuset said Montreal's hotels, which are sitting empty, could give the homeless population comfortable places to isolate.
“It's a real insult on top of insult to the population and I'm super concerned about it,” she said. “At Cabot Square, we're asking people to give us their tickets. If you are receiving a ticket, we will collect it and will speak to authorities on your behalf.”
Watts said he hopes once the pandemic ends, the city will find better ways to treat the homeless.
“If we're such an essential service, maybe we should look at this differently once we get past the crisis to see how we really should be approaching this,” he said. “What could we do that would resolve the challenge of homelessness?”