Montreal homeless worse than ever
Montreal homeless – It was December 2015 when Mayor Denis Coderre attended a press conference called by the Mouvement pour mettre fin à l’itinérance à Montréal (MMFIM). On that occasion, Mayor Coderre recalled that the initiative announced that day was “in line with the Plan d’action montréalais en itinérance 2014-2017, in which the City has committed to a series of actions that will contribute to the social reintegration of men and women living on the street.” Coderre also announced at the time the goal to eliminate homelessness in Montreal by the year 2020.
Documentation issued during that press conference indicated that “a total of 784 chronically homeless people and 1,357 cyclically homeless men and women” were living on the streets of Montreal. The first number corresponds to individuals who have no place to live and go to the various shelters in the city or even manage to sleep in metro stations especially when the temperature gets too cold, or weather permitting, sleep in parks and streets having the stars as their only roof.
We are now in the year when the Plan d’action montréalais en itinérance 2015-2017 should show some results. And here I’m not talking statistic information which in the end tells us only a small part of the whole reality of homelessness, but rather more concrete and accurate information on how the well-publicized plan is bearing some fruit or not. However, if one leaves numbers aside the reality seems as crude as ever, or perhaps even worse than when those announcements were made. One just has to walk the stairs to the Guy-Concordia metro station or come out of Atwater station toward the Alexis Nihon shopping centre or walk Saint Laurent from Sherbrooke up north to see homeless people everywhere. Where are the promised solutions to a problem that, by all accounts, seems to be getting worse?
Once again, the mere quantification of the issue does very little other than providing a measure of the problem: a real solution can only be reached once the causes of the problem are addressed. There are indications that the members of this contingent of homeless people come from three main categories.
The first one made of those people who have some kind of mental disorder which were literally sent onto the streets as a result of drastic cuts in health care. De-institutionalizing mental patients was even sold to the public as a sort of progressive move, a new approach in psychiatric treatment that would allow those people to interact with others in a normal environment. Of course, nothing or very little of that was ever implemented, lack of resources left them abandoned to their own fate, and without any follow-up, they ultimately ended up on the street.
Then there is the category of people who as a result of economic policies lost their jobs, run out of unemployment benefits, their deteriorated situation, in turn, triggered other crises: family breakup, loss of home, depression, falling into a desperate situation leading to alcohol or drug abuse. In the end, people who fell through the cracks of the system and ended up on the streets, morally and psychologically broken. A particular case in this category is that of people of aboriginal background, living in the city and without the social links that they could have had in their own communities.
A third category is that of people at the two age extremes: young and old. High-school or college dropouts who leave home and sometimes fall into drug or alcohol addiction, other youngsters unable to find a job and fit into a competitive social scenario, and at the other end, old people with no family and unable to keep their homes. Although government agencies are supposed to take care of these cases, there are still some who for different reasons prefer not to deal with those services.
For now, despite the promising public statements made by the Mayor and other authorities, homelessness in Montreal is still a serious and growing problem in the city. The lack of a comprehensive policy regarding homelessness remains a problem: it is not enough to add more beds to the existing shelters although that is also necessary. There must also be a program to rehabilitate these people through re-training or providing them with some tools to effectively reinsert into the economy of the city or the region. And very importantly: we as a society must stop thinking of homelessness as a “normal” situation. As something that we have to accept because “there would always be people in that condition” or worse “people who don’t want to work,” that thinking only leads to indifference and insensitivity toward other fellow human beings. Sleeping in a metro station is degrading to anyone, and it is also unsanitary for the homeless people and for transit users, to say nothing of the poor image for a city that’s spending millions in celebrating its anniversary.
“The experience here at home and elsewhere has shown that by providing them (the homeless) with decent, permanent and affordable housing, along with support adapted to their needs, most will succeed in exiting the street,” a spokesperson for MMFIM said in December 2015, words with which Mayor Coderre agreed. Then why after more than a year we don’t see much action on this matter?
Feature image: People sleeping on the stairs of the Guy-Concordia metro