Montreal Village residents call for 'human solution' to homelessness
Confrontations with homeless people put housing crisis on full display, intervention workers say
On Amélie Faubert's walk home near Beaudry Metro station, she often sees people lying on the street corner.
"You don't want to disturb the people sleeping outside," she said.
Faubert, who moved to the Village in September 2022, said in the past few months she has found used needles on her doorstep. She doesn't feel comfortable walking alone around the neighbourhood at night.
"I wish cohabitation was more smooth with residents and homeless people," she said.
It's a sentiment echoed by businesses that are seeing customers avoid the area and advocates for the homeless who say the confrontations are evidence that more services are needed to help people in the streets.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante tweeted Monday that the city had set up a crisis unit to "improve the sense of security" in the neighbourhood.
The announcement follows a handful of businesses on Ste-Catherine Street East closing their terrasses after clients raised concerns about drug use and the presence of homeless people.
Part of Montreal's action plan, expected to be unveiled Thursday, includes adding 40 police officers to patrol the area, accompanied by members of the city's mobile mediation squad (EMMIS) — who try to settle conflicts that vulnerable people might face.
David Lecompte, who moved back to the neighbourhood in March 2022, said he's especially worried about having more frequent violent encounters with people experiencing homelessness and mental health issues.
"When it becomes physical violence, that's a threshold that you know we don't want to go there and people don't feel safe," he said. "Everybody wants a solution. Everybody would like a human solution."
Lecompte and Faubert also say they don't believe additional police officers will solve the issue in the long term.
"I don't totally trust the police with doing a good job, and I hope people are not going to start attacking homeless people," Faubert said.
Vulnerable people have nowhere else to go
Jean-François Mary, executive director of the community-based harm reduction organization CACTUS Montréal, says he understands the worries of residents and shop owners, but what might seem like an increase in drug users in the area is actually a symptom of the housing crisis.
He says homeless people in the streets are at a higher risk of being exposed to violence and sometimes turn to drugs as a "survival strategy" to stay awake and defend themselves.
"They have a right to live and pushing them away is not going to solve anything," he said. "Instead of putting one billion dollars for a police department, we should think of investing in people to improve their living conditions."
Quebec needs to act, resident says
CACTUS received 80,000 visits across all its services last year, according to Mary, which translates to serving 200 to 300 people per day. But Mary says the organization has had to wind down services because of reduced funding.
Faubert says local organizations are doing "as much as they can with the little money they have," and wants not only the municipal government but the provincial government to step up.
"It feels like they are not paying as much attention because we didn't elect a lot of [Coalition Avenir Québec] CAQ representatives in Montreal," she said. "I feel like they're just kind of letting it slide."
Mary said the Quebec government should meet the specific needs of the neighbourhood and downtown Montreal more broadly, which he calls "the hotspot" for drug use.
"The overdose crisis isn't going on all over Quebec," he said.
with files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Sara Eldabaa