Open letter: City of Montreal must bring swift response to support homeless population
MONTREAL -- As the City of Montreal of Montreal prepares to roll out its cold weather plans, the #NoOneLeftBehind Collective fears the services proposed by the City neglect a large portion of the homeless population who do not or cannot access the shelter system.
The multiplication of crises places more people in precarious circumstances
People who are homeless face multiple challenges that are exacerbated by the current pandemic: isolation, growing psychological distress, fear of contracting COVID-19 in the shelter system, difficulty abiding by public health ordinances because of lack of housing, not to mention basic necessities such as clean running water and sanitary installations. As winter approaches, the cold and lack of access to heated spaces will soon add to their burden. Add to this the current housing crisis and overdose epidemic and it becomes clear that the city’s homeless population is more vulnerable than it has ever been.
The visibility of homeless encampments should not serve to erase other realities that are just as harsh but less visible. Let us not forget Montreal’s Indigenous population whose camps were dismantled the moment they were erected. Women and LGBTQIA2S+ persons are also hit hard and continue to struggle to find shelter in secure and adapted spaces.
A LAST RESORT
Homeless encampments, large or small, exist and can be found all over the city. This is not a new phenomenon and has evolved out of peoples need to find adapted responses for their own safety, security, and autonomy whilst remaining connected to their neighbourhoods, networks, and communities as well as support services.
Community organizations and institutions have been working in concert since April in order to bring relief and support to people experiencing homelessness. Together they have developed care facilities, collected and analyzed data on prevention strategies and developed positive relationships with key actors. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and emergency shelters are not always an adapted response to the needs of a marginalized population.
SANITATION ORDINANCES AND HOMELESSNESS
The benefits of the current homeless encampments for those who use this mode of survival, far outweigh the concerns of public health and safety or the inconveniencies they may pose in the neighbourhoods in which they are located. These installations allow residents to find some form of stability and to limit their movement within the city as recommended by the directives emitted by public officials.
While the “bubble” concept promoted by the government is applicable to households, the concept is hardly applicable in the same way for individuals who are experiencing homelessness, if the objective is to maintain the existing informal networks of mutual support. Many persons will speak of their “street family” referring to each other as “brothers” and “sisters”. These “bubbles” may be slightly different from the definition of the public health authorities, but serve to fulfill the same needs of health, safety and human bonding. It should be noted that no major outbreaks have been reported amongst individuals who are camping or without shelter since the beginning of the pandemic.
DISMANTLING OF ENCAMPMENTS IS HARMFUL AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
The dismantling of these installations only compounds the problem. Evictions and the violence they bring (destruction of property, aggressivity, police brutality, watching your personal belongings being bulldozed) only contribute to the marginalization and precariousness of individuals who are already among the most vulnerable.
In the interest of those people who have no other option but to ride out a global pandemic while living in a tent, the #NoOneLeftBehind collective[AB2] firmly opposes the dismantling of these encampments. These brutal measures have disastrous consequences for people who are left without resources on top of being homeless.
CITY OF MONTREAL: A KEY ACTOR IN RESPONDING TO NEEDS
The #NoOneLeftBehind collective calls on the City of Montreal to take concrete measures adapted to the needs of people currently residing in encampments. Our recommendations are as follows:
- An end to all dismantling of outdoor installations. We request a universal tolerance of these installations on the entire territory of the City of Montreal
- Facilitate access to heat. Notably by granting them access to existing infrastructures and by developing warming areas in proximity to the campsites.
- Allow and facilitate access to necessities such as clean water, public toilets and showers to which the city has access as well as laundromats.
- To develop a service corridor for access to COVID-19 testing and isolation spaces in the neighborhoods of the camps.
- To respect its commitments made in Montreal's homelessness action plan, most pressingly concerning public sanitary installations, the financing of initiatives favouring cohabitation and local needs analyses.
- To help create shelters adapted to women, LGBTQ+ persons, Indigenous people, and people who use drugs.
The #NoOneLeftBehind Collective calls on the city to work collaboratively with organizations who have been recognized for their innovative work with diverse communities and people experiencing homelessness to allocate the $263M allotted to the city by the government of Quebec in order to bring a swift, appropriate response to an urgent need.
The NoOneLeftBehind Collective :
● CACTUS Montréal
● Clinique Droits Devant
● Pact de Rue
● Plein Milieu
● Rap Jeunesse
● Spectre de Rue
● Stella, l’amie de Maimie and other partners
With the support of the Réseau d’Aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), la Table des organismes communautaires montréalais de lutte contre le sida (TOMS) and le RÉSEAU de la communauté autochtone à Montréal (RÉSEAU)