Montreal homeless native population rising, shelters say

Shelters for aboriginal people in Montreal say their resources are stretched thin as more aboriginal people flee the housing crisis in the North.

Montreal resource centes say aboriginal people are fleeing housing crisis in the North

The aboriginal community of Lac Simon, near Val-d'Or, Que. is urgently in need of housing. (Karine Mateu/Radio-Canada)

Shelters for aboriginal people in Montreal say their resources are stretched thin with a growing demand for beds that's increased since last year. 

Projets Autochtones du Québec, a shelter in Montreal's Chinatown neighbourhood, has bought 15 extra beds to meet the demand. 

Adrienne Campbell is the project director at the shelter.

Her shelter hit capacity in June, and has been over capacity since the end of November. 

They're escaping violence, they're escaping a situation of overcrowding- Adrienne Campbell, Project director for Projets Autochtones du Quebec

Campbell said it's a struggle to provide for all of those in need, although she is getting emergency funding from the government. 

While it's normal to see an increase in demand during the winter season, Campbell says that when beds fill up before the cold sets in, it's a sign that the homeless population is on the rise.

"Not only do we run out of beds, not only are our food services strained, but intervention as well and the number of workers needs to increase," she said.

A lot of the new faces arriving at the shelter are coming from northern Quebec Inuit communities, and Campbell says many of them are escaping violence or a lack of housing.

"Much of what we see can stem from the conditions in northern communities," Campbell said. According to Campbell, about 45 per cent of the population that relies on the Projets Autochtones du Québec comes from Canada's northern Inuit communities.

"When people come [to Montreal] for more negative reasons, for example, because they're escaping violence, they're escaping a situation of overcrowding ... that's when we need to start seeing some changes."

Overcrowding adds new layer to social problems

Another resource centre in the city — the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal — is seeing a similar trend. 

Clinical co-ordinator Marti Miller said she's had to implement a waiting list for beds. 

She agrees that social conditions in the North are contributing to increased migration. 

"These new faces are often coming from outside communities and when you have inadequate housing, it's really difficult to deal with any sort of crisis situation," Miller said. 

While many people who make the trip from northern communities to Montreal are hoping for work, Campbell says language barriers and culture shock make it difficult for some people to integrate. 

"Unfortunately there's a lack of positive aboriginal presence in Montreal," Campbell said. 

"When people come from the north, they seek out that sense of community again. But unfortunately, that presence is often at the shelter."


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