Montréal-Nord still reeling from COVID-19 and community groups say residents feel abandoned

Montréal-Nord isn't grabbing headlines as it did during the first wave of COVID-19, but the virus continues to do damage in the neighbourhood, and community groups want the government and health authorities to do more.

Applying public health measures is different in Montréal-Nord compared to other neighbourhoods, group says

Malcolm Philoctète, 20, went door to door and surveyed residents in Montréal-Nord about the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Montréal-Nord isn't grabbing headlines as it did during the first wave of COVID-19, but the virus continues to do damage in the neighbourhood, and community groups want governments and health authorities to do more.

According to Montreal Public Health, the neighbourhood has recorded 780 cases per 100,000 residents for the last two weeks — the most of any borough or municipality on the island.

Hoodstock, a community organization, conducted a series of surveys, reaching close to 5,000 residents who live in apartment buildings with at least six units in the eastern part of the borough. The group says the results show that residents feel they aren't being given the proper help to navigate the pandemic.

Nearly 200 of the people surveyed contracted the virus and 92 per cent of them said they didn't receive any services after their diagnosis — services that are needed, given the reality of many people in the neighbourhood, according to the group. 

"It"s important to show the numbers," said Cassandra Exumé, a co-ordinator with Hoodstock. "It's important to show that the reality of the public health measures in the lives of Montréal-Nord residents is not the same as it is in other neighbourhoods."

About 37 per cent of the people surveyed say they needed help, such as babysitting or someone to pick up their groceries.

Last spring, Hoodstock and others called on elected officials to step up their pandemic response in the neighbourhood, but community groups say those efforts still don't take into account the challenges residents face. 

Factors such as multiple families living together in small apartments, or a single parent working odd hours, are among the common realities in the neighbourhood that make it difficult for people to respect pandemic rules. 

Marie-Livia Beaugé, a lawyer and Hoodstock's top co-ordinator, says governments and health authorities aren't doing enough to help residents in the neighbourhood get through the pandemic. (CBC)

Even with all forms of gathering banned, many residents depend on loved ones who don't live in the same household, the groups said, and the province's curfew has made things even more difficult for families. 

"They don't take that into consideration" said Marie-Livia Beaugé, a lawyer and Hoodstock's top co-ordinator. "When someone contracts COVID, they have to go back to that apartment where there are children that have to go school. There are other adults that have to go to work."

The need for mental health services

Malcolm Philoctète, who is 20, did a lot of the legwork for the surveys and was taken aback by the mould and poor insulation in many of the apartment buildings he visited, and how those living conditions make the pandemic even more challenging.

About a quarter of the residents surveyed said they would like more access to mental health services, according to Hoodstock.

"Imagine, someone living with six children, that is a single parent, that is looking for a job, that has to pay the rent, their building is in bad shape," said Philoctète.

The 20-year-old says more financial support for community groups would help them better assist residents.

"We don't need to generalize. Not everyone is living in this kind of poverty, with these kind of problems," he said. "But it's too much of a big population to turn a [blind eye] and just ignore it."

In an email to CBC News, Montréal-Nord borough Mayor Christine Black said the survey results aren't surprising. 

"The data from Hoodstock's research data confirms the information we knew and shared in many forums over the past year," wrote the borough mayor. "Despite the borough and the community's efforts, we know that much remains to be done regarding information and awareness of health measures."

The regional authority maintains that its teams have been offering an "adapted and targeted response" to residents of the borough. 

"Over the past few weeks we have redoubled our efforts and they seem to be bearing fruit," Emilie Jacob, a spokesperson for the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal wrote to the CBC. "We have put a lot of effort into screening and the number of screenings per 100,000 inhabitants is today the highest in our territory." 

WATCH | Young Quebecers open up about the mental toll of the pandemic

Out of the Dark: 'There's just a gap'

CBC News Montreal

3 months ago
Young Quebecers are struggling to find a place for their grief and frustration as the measures to contain COVID-19 drag on and compound the impact on their lives. 6:13

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from Sarah Leavitt

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