Homeless tent camps are not a solution, Plante says

"We want to get people off the street and accompany them toward a permanent solution."

Rows of tents make up part of a homeless tent city on Notre-Dame St. in Montreal on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020.

Makeshift encampments are not the answer to Montreal’s homelessness problem, mayor Valérie Plante said on Thursday.

Tent cities like the one on Notre-Dame St. E., which was forcibly broken up last fall, and the one in Boisé Steinberg, which was taken down on Monday, are manifestations of a larger problem the city is working to address in tandem with community organizations and different levels of government, according to Plante.

“It’s never a solution to have people sleeping outside,” said the mayor, who was joined at a news conference by Samuel Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission. “We have said since the beginning of the pandemic, our administration leaves no one behind. We’re doubling our efforts, lifting up rocks to find long-term solutions for people experiencing homelessness.”

The city is working with partners including the CIUSSS Centre-Sud, Montreal police and the city’s commissioner for people experiencing homelessness, Serge Lareault. The goal is to make sure there are enough beds for everyone, Plante said, pointing to the more than 1,000 beds added to the city’s network of shelters over the past 12 months.

“We will always accompany people sleeping outside towards resources,” she explained. “When you set foot in a shelter like the Welcome Hall Mission, they’re there to accompany people in the process toward (having a roof over their head), and finding the resources that are appropriate.

“That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we don’t want to tolerate organized camps. We want to get people off the street and accompany them toward a permanent solution.”

Most people experiencing homelessness are open to housing solutions if they believe their needs are being met, according to Watts.

“The vast majority of people who find themselves in outside camping situations do want to have a roof over their head permanently,” he said. “Our job in the community sector is to be beside these people, build trust and connection, and convince them there’s something better than a tent on the side of the road.”

As of March 31, the Projet Montréal administration had created 1,089 social housing units for people experiencing homelessness, which is 14 per cent higher than its goal of 950, and 36 per cent more than the 800 units created under former mayor Denis Coderre.

“And we’re not done,” Plante said. “We’re going to continue to work with community organizations because, as we can clearly see, the needs are great.”

In January, Ottawa and Quebec announced $56.8 million in spending toward creating 263 new affordable housing units as part of the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative.

Thanks to that funding, the city is participating in a dozen different projects led by community organizations, which will be completed by early 2022. But more funds are needed, Plante argued.

Her administration has created 4,800 social housing units during its current mandate, which amounts to 80 per cent of its “ambitious goal” of 6,000 units. She said the difference can be explained by the lack of access to more affordable and social housing through the provincial government’s underfunded Accès Logis program.

The Welcome Hall Mission, Old Brewery Mission, Maison du père, CAP St-Barnabé and l’Accueil Bonneau provide 75 to 80 per cent of services to people experiencing homelessness, Watts noted, adding that they should be seen as a means to an end.

“Emergency measures are always important, but you have to avoid repeating similar experiences year after year,” Watts said. “People in a situation of homelessness need a permanent home. They also need the support of a system adapted to help them rebuild a sense of community.

“We’re waiting desperately for the day we can say homelessness no longer exists in Montreal.”

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