Last March 27th, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante declared a state of emergency as Covid-19 cases started to rise in the city and the pandemic took hold. At the time, they also announced plans to open more temporary shelters for the city’s rising Montreal homeless. They opened new shelters at the Bonsecour Market, Jean-Claude Malepart Centre, as well as adding beds at Complexe Guy-Favreau and the downtown YMCA. They transformed the site at the Royal Victoria Hospital to house homeless people diagnosed with COVID-19 or awaiting their test results – as well as other beds for those who just had nowhere to go. However, even with the additions and other shelters already in place, it is has not been enough. There is a shortage of affordable housing that is adding to the problem, leading to an increase of people finding themselves homeless.
People have been setting up camps in public areas. They are putting up tents in parks and green spaces around the city to live in, as they have no other choice. There is simply no place else for them to go. Tents have been seen along a green space in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve area, along eastbound Notre Dame Street – and even more around the Adhemar-Raynault Park area not far away.
A man sitting on a chair outside his tent, told Global News on July 29th that he had already been there for two weeks. He lost his apartment last February (after seven years) because his landlord wanted to hike his rent by $300 – and it has been very difficult to find an apartment since then. He said about 15 people are also now living there full time and there are others who just show up at night. Around 25 people were there the night before. “The problem is many, many people pay too much for their housing and they cannot live a suitable life like this… it’s always extreme poverty,” he said and ‘wants governments to build more affordable housing’.
With the moratorium on tenant evictions now lifted, the lack of housing options is proving to be an even more serious problem. A growing number of businesses and stores have closed down permanently – resulting in many people losing their jobs. Where will they go? For now, Montreal police have not intervened as they have had no complaints, but how long will that last? The City of Montreal said in statement last week, ‘The borough is working with partners in the field, such as Anonymous, Cap St-Barnabe and Dopamine to ensure the safety of everyone on the premises’ and they continue ‘to increase homelessness interventions with the collaboration of the Emergency Measures Coordination Center in order to support people to the appropriate resources based on the assessment of the needs and the risk for their safety and that of the public’. Housing rights group are following the situation, a situation nobody should ever find themselves facing, especially during this time and the pandemic.