Tent city dismantling will not solve homelessness, say Montreal community organizations
Police officers walk through a homeless campsite in Montreal, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, where residents have ordered to leave by Montreal’s fire department following a fire in a tent on Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
MONTREAL -- A group of community organizations is denouncing the police dismantling of the tent city on Notre-Dame St. that at one point had more than 150 people living in it.
“What happened yesterday was a total disgrace, it should not have happened,” says Sandra Wesley, executive director of Chez Stella, a non-profit organization by and for sex workers.
Montreal police and the fire department moved to dismantle the encampment Monday after the city's fire chief ordered the emergency evacuation of the camp on Sunday following a weekend fire.
The group of community organizations representing marginalized members of society are angry at the level of aggression they say Montreal police displayed as they ordered out occupants of the tent city, leaving the spaces they had been occupying for several months.
Police officers in riot gear and on horseback, as well as police helicopters, were used in the operation. According to the community groups, mental health professionals who had been working with the occupants of the tent city were not allowed to be present during the dismantling.
Police said on Monday that residents can either move on to the local YMCA or the Place Dupuis shelter, which is overseen by the Welcome Hall Mission.
Wesley is worried for the former occupants.
“Their community is gone, their food sources are gone, their source of warmth is gone even their washrooms are gone. During COVID there’s nowhere to go during the day,” she says.
“We’re particularly worried for women,” she adds. “Situations like this, where stability is destroyed, where a community is destroyed... when everyone is scattered -- we don’t have a sense of knowing where everyone is and that is a prime moment for women to go missing.”
Community organizations had asked for electricity and other basic services to be installed to make the camp safer but that those requests were denied. Wesley says the occupants were living to the best of their abilities under difficult circumstances.
“Poverty is messy. Poverty is difficult. Poverty is a struggle and when we’re in that situation we do what we need to do to survive. And we do what’s best for us. So we need to start by trusting that if people are making a decision to stay in a tent by the highway and have potentially dangerous materials to keep warm that this is the best they have available in that moment.”
She adds that the dismantling of the tent city will not solve homelessness in the city.
“There’s this desire to make poverty invisible. Putting people out of public view will not feed them or lift them out of poverty,” she said.