Opinion: Women who are homeless are doubly excluded
Published Wednesday, November 3, 2021 12:40PM EDT
Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion of the Old Brewery Mission (Source: Old Brewery Mission)
MONTREAL -- In Montreal, only 10 per cent of emergency shelter spaces are reserved for women and affordable housing is scarce. As the municipal election campaign enters the home stretch, the parties’ proposals for reducing homelessness among women deserve attention.
Denis Coderre’s Ensemble Montréal has promised to build 600 units specifically for homeless women. Coderre has also said he plans to spend $60 million over four years to fight poverty and homelessness.
Projet Montréal, led by Mayor Valérie Plante, has pledged to double the budget for people experiencing homelessness from $12 million to $24 million over four years. Projet Montréal has promised to add 300 housing units per year and the mayor is in favour of a 24/7 approach that will support people who are homeless day and night.
In a debate on homelessness held at the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion on Oct. 21, three candidates — Nathalie Goulet of Projet Montréal, Matthew Kerr of Mouvement Montréa,l and Benoit Langevin of Ensemble Montréal — spelled out their parties’ promises.
Kerr said we need to “increase resources on the street” and better regulate the practices of organizations such as Airbnb, while Goulet said, “We must act on the system. This is why we have a very ambitious bylaw that promotes mixed neighbourhoods in the city by requiring new development to include 20 per cent social housing.”
Ensemble Montréal has pledged to build 10,000 social housing units and wants to establish a fund to raise money from the private sector for development projects.
A resident of the Mackenzie Pavilion, Canada’s largest shelter for women who are homeless, asked the candidates, “Are you willing to turn land and buildings over to community organizations to transform these spaces into affordable housing?”
That question went unanswered.
As homelessness isn’t just a Montreal issue, Plante recently called on other levels of government to do more. They seem to have listened, at least to some extent.
Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s Junior Minister for Health and Social Services, has promised five-year financial support for resources for homeless women. This government backing will enable organizations such as ours to act more quickly and more methodically to give women in need comprehensive support.
Recurring funding will also make it possible to establish a permanent structure that offers all the homeless women who knock on our door the stability they need. We will be able to accelerate the development of community housing services, led by our in-house team, and offer more than 330 housing units, with psychosocial support, starting next spring.
To help women get off the street for good and become full members of the community again, we will offer those who have been excluded from society decent, safe and sustainable living spaces.
A woman can find herself homeless overnight as a result of domestic violence, financial instability, substance abuse or mental health issues. She must deal with a double exclusion: from society and from the street and its violence.
That is why it is important to act quickly to offer her the security and stability of affordable housing. Homelessness among women is less visible in the public space than homelessness among men, but it is very real nonetheless.
As a society, we need to take that extra step to make sure everyone can wake up in a real home.
Neila Ben Ayed is the director of women's services at The Old Brewery Mission. Valérie Pomerleau is vice-president of Ryan affaires publiques.