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'The problem continues': Memorial honours homeless Montrealers who died on the streets

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On Wednesday, a memorial was held to honour the more than 30 homeless people who have died in Montreal since 2021 and to draw attention to a growing crisis on the city's streets.

Vanessa LaPrise has been in and out of homelessness. She attended the event to pay her respects to friends she's lost, including a man affectionately known as "Mohawk Mike" who recently died from a drug overdose.

"He's, like, the king of the street in a certain way where he protects women," LaPrise said. "You can have a multitude of people stories telling you about how he protected the women."

There are 35 people being remembered in Cabot Square; all were homeless.

Nakuset, the director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, said oftentimes they don't get a proper funeral.

"Their families can claim them, but there's never any wake or any kind of ceremony or, you know, acknowledgment of their past. So, this is an opportunity for that," said Nakuset, who goes by one name.

A memorial was held Wednesday, June 5, 2024, to honour the more than 30 homeless people who have died on Montreal's streets since 2021. (Angela Mackenzie/CTV News)

The executive director of the Resilience Montreal day shelter said multiple factors are to blame, from a dangerous drug supply to the ongoing housing crisis.

"And one of the common narratives is people aging out of child and family services and right into homelessness," David Chapman said.

As homeless encampments continue to pop up, Chapman says how the city deals with them can also play a role. Last year, an encampment under the Ville-Marie Expressway was dismantled. At least two of the people forced out have since died, including a man named Matthew, who Chapman says overdosed in a Metro bathroom.

"So, you scatter this population. We warned what would happen. They're going to go further into hiding into abandoned buildings, into alleyways and tunnels," he said.

A report by Quebec's public health institute found homelessness rose by 33 percent in Montreal between 2018 and 2022.

Roughly half of the people being remembered on Wednesday were Indigenous women.

"Just yesterday was the anniversary of the five-year missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry and, yet, look how many young women are on the board. So the problem continues," Nakuset said.

Both Nakuset and Chapman say resources simply aren't enough and would like to see governments go further to show fighting homelessness is truly a priority.

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