Homeless encampment along Montreal's Notre-Dame Street to be shut down, city says

The City of Montreal wants a group of urban campers on Notre-Dame Street gone by the end of the month. The tent city has mushroomed from a handful, to several dozen tents over the summer.

Some say small patch of green space now feels like home and they're prepared to resist eviction

Jacques Brochu was looking forward to celebrating his 60th birthday at a tent he now calls home on a small patch of grass along Notre-Dame Street. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Jacques Brochu was one of the first this spring to pitch a tent on the bit of urban green space along Montreal's Notre-Dame Street in the city's east end.

Worried about catching COVID-19 in a homeless shelter, Brochu decided a tent was the safest option.

"As I'm outside here, I'm doing much better," said Brochu, standing near his temporary shelter and makeshift rainwater collector fashioned out of tarps.

"I'm 59 and I'm going to be 60 in October and I wish to celebrate 60 years here."

But that likely won't happen.

Montreal eased restrictions on tenting in public spaces as the pandemic rolled into the city this spring. The encampment has grown from a handful of campers to dozens.

Now the mayor of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Pierre Lessard-Blais, said it's time for them to pull up stakes.

He's giving them until the end of the month to move out.

"It's a matter of respecting those people, but also a matter of public security," he said. "We cannot really let people camp during the winter."

Jacques Brochu uses a tarp system to collect rainwater. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

From the beginning, the city knew the campers couldn't stay indefinitely, Lessard-Blais said. The borough will open a new shelter in early September instead, he said.

But a social housing advocate says shutting down the encampment will displace people who are already suffering due to the pandemic's impact on the economy.

"The COVID-19 crisis just fuelled all this," said Youssef Benzouine of Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU).

"It really laid bare this situation, which was already pre-existing."

Pierre Lessard-Blais, mayor of Montreal's Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough, says the campers were never supposed to stay in the green space indefinitely. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

While Montreal's homeless population has long hovered around 3,000, some have only recently fallen on hard times. 

Daniel Doucet is among those who recently lost his career and home to COVID-19.

The laid-off trucker has been out of work for three months and is now camping along Notre-Dame Street — a heavily congested, east-west route that connects downtown to Highway 25.

Daniel Doucet lost his job as a trucker three months ago due to the economic shutdown. Now he's living in a tent in Montreal. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Doucet said governments, from the municipal on up to federal, have failed to address the affordable housing crisis that afflicted Montreal and other Canadian cities long before COVID-19 struck.

Doucet said those now living in the encampment aren't eager to be swept under the rug.

"We're not here to take over the territory," he said. "We just want to make a bold statement that there is an issue nationwide."

Brochu said campers are ready to put up a fight to stay right where they are.

The small patch of green space that serves as a buffer between the busy roadway and a residential area now feels like home and, Brochu said, "I think there's going to be resistance" when the city swoops in to evict the campers.

Based on a report by Simon Nakonechny