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Quebec to evict homeless encampment at Ville-Marie Expressway, advocates fear approaching winter

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Quebec’s transport ministry gave homeless people 10 days to vacate an area of land beneath the Ville-Marie Expressway to make way for maintenance work, and come Thursday morning, police will push the remaining people to leave.

“Where are we going to go? In the park up the street and freeze?” said Lucy Partridge, who lives under the suspended road. Her tent is one of a handful pitched in the area sheltered by the overpass and secluded enough to maintain privacy from police and passersby.

“It’s comfortable where we are,” she told CTV. “Nobody bothers each other.”

Quebec’s ministry of transport (MTQ) says the road needs to be repaired, and that it has enlisted provincial and municipal police to ensure the area is vacant by Thursday morning. The city is collaborating with the province to satisfy its requirements to start work, and homeless people there were told they’ll need to be out by 9 a.m.

“We really have to get this property back as soon as possible,” said MTQ spokesperson Nicolas Vigneault.

The MTQ has also pulled in social groups to aid homeless people who will need to find a new place to stay. Those groups include Montreal’s mental-health intervention group, EMMIS, and Diogene, which provides transitional support services to help people find housing, get medical care, or appear in court.

Lucy Partridge sits by her tent pitched under the Ville-Marie Expressway on Nov. 7, 2022. She, and several other unhoused people who live here will be pushed out by the province on Thursday to make way for maintenance work. (Dave Touniou, CTV News)

“They’re going to be with us, and they have been involved with us since the beginning,” said Vigneault. “We always work with them, collaborate with them, to make sure these people are taken care of.”

But advocates for the homeless say there’s little support workers can do with limited shelter spaces available.

“We already know that shelters are overpopulated. There’s not enough room,” said Na’kuset, director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal. She told CTV she’s aware of several shelters, including her own, which are already near or at-capacity.

Moreover, shelters which do have space may not be able to take the people at the underpass, who might have dogs, or live with addiction.

“Or they may have mental health issues that the shelters are not able to support,” she said.

Instead, she said, they’re more likely to end up on the street, which can be dangerous, especially during cold winter months.

“I don’t want to hear about someone passing away,” she said. “We already know what happened with Elisapie Pootoogook, what happened with Raphael Andre, and so many others.”

Shopping carts filled with clothes and items belonging to a small homeless community living under the Ville-Marie Expressway are seen in front of a makeshift tarp structure on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (Dave Touniou, CTV News)

Elisapie Pootoogook was found dead at a condo construction site in November last year. News of her death sent shockwaves through the community as many called on the city to spend more on shelter spaces so that homeless people wouldn’t need to find other places to sleep. She was 60 at the time of her death.

Earlier that year, in January, 51-year-old Raphael Andre froze to death just steps from the downtown shelter where he had been staying. Public health rules put in place because of COVID-19 forced shelter staff to kick him out at night, even though there were beds available.

“This is the reality,” said Na’kuset. “We need to do better.”

As for Partridge, she said she’s not sure where she will go on Nov. 10.

“[We] can’t go anywhere to sleep. Can’t go anywhere to relax,” she said, adding that the only places she can think of going are areas where she’s likely to be kicked out by police, or where she’s vulnerable to harsh weather.

“The cops are just going to keep kicking us out everywhere we go,” she said.  

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