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Residents seeking class-action lawsuits against Montreal shelters amid cohabitation concerns

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A Montreal lawyer is seeking permission to file two class-action lawsuits targeting two Montreal homeless shelters.

The lawsuits are on behalf of people who live near the shelters who say they're having to deal with the consequences of the proximity, including drug abuse, mental health crises, and prostitution.

They target the old Hotel Dieu hospital on St-Urbain Street that has been serving as a shelter since 2021 and the Open Door Montreal shelter on Park Avenue in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood.

Lawyer Gérad Samet is seeking permission to file the two class-action lawsuits on behalf of people living near each of the shelters. The documents have been filed in Quebec Superior court and it's not just the shelters that are named as defendants — the City of Montreal and the Province of Quebec are also listed.

Samet argues they all have a collective responsibility to deal with what he describes as a public health issue because he says the people are suffering from addiction issues, mental health issues, and their behaviour is having an impact on the community.

He says there's a segment of the homeless population, which he describes as a small minority that is causing serious problems.

"They're threatening passersby day and night, including children and women, they have aggressive behaviour," he alleged, adding that there is indecent behaviour happening in public parks in front of others.

The shelter in the former Hotel Dieu hospital is jointly operated by the Old Brewery Mission and the Welcome Hall Mission. The Old Brewery Mission's president and CEO, James Hughes, said he wouldn't comment specifically on the lawsuits, but he says it's clear the housing crisis is causing a problem with cohabitation.

He says people fall into desperate situations because of circumstances out of their control, and they deserve to be treated with dignity.

"With respect to homelessness in Montreal it's going in the wrong direction. It's gone from 3,000 to 5,000 people over the course of the last four or five years. That's a minimum number of people who will be homeless tonight, of which 20 per cent — so, up to 1,000 people — will be living outside, so in a form of absolute homelessness ... in the parks, in the encampments, in the Metros, in the emergency rooms," Hughes said in an interview.

"It's a phenomenon that's not surprisingly causing clashes and conflict and tension at levels we've never seen before."

CTV News reached out to the Open Door shelter and to the City of Montreal but neither of them responded to a request for an interview or offered a statement about the situation.

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