With long waits and hidden homelessness, West Island groups say need is dire for social housing

West Island residents hoping to access social housing can expect to wait about five years, advocates say, unless more is done immediately to curb the need.

West Island has 12% of island of Montreal's population but only 4% of its social housing

Lindsay Patrick, the program co-ordinator for West Island Community Resource Centre, takes a call from someone looking for housing. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Most days, Lindsay Patrick gets at least one call like the one from the man on the line.

He's looking for housing in the West Island while he gets back on his feet. Recently, life's been difficult for him. He's looking for a reasonably priced place to live, and does she know where to find one?

However, despite knowing the resources available to people in the West Island like the back of her hand, Patrick can only suggest he try downtown, or possibly look for a roommate.

Patrick is the program co-ordinator for the West Island Community Resource Centre, and in her role, she often has to tell people the line-up for affordable and social housing in the West Island is long — very long.

She's heard the wait time is about five years.

"For people who are in situations that they can't afford a regular apartment or need something that's more subsidized by the government, they're looking at not being able to find any immediate solution," she said.

Homelessness prevalent but hidden

The youth outreach organization AJOI estimates some 18 per cent of young people in the West Island are living in poverty.

Tania Charron, the executive director of AJOI, says the problem of homelessness is prevalent but hidden. Young people are couch-surfing or crowding into small apartments so they can pay their bills.

She's constantly fighting against the stereotype that people from the West Island are affluent.

"We don't talk about chronic homelessness, we talk about episodic homelessness," she said. "When we say hidden, people are using strategies so they stay hidden."

In the last year alone, AJOI helped 9,700 West Island residents living in precarious situations.

Tania Charron, executive director of AJOI, says she is working on a new social housing project in Pierrefonds. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

But despite the need, the West Island has a disproportionately small share of greater Montreal's social housing. The area represents about 12 per cent of the island of Montreal's population — but only about four per cent of its social housing.

Groups like AJOI and La Table de Quartier Sud have been lobbying for additional social housing for years.

New project in works

Charron says AJOI is involved in a new project that could see an additional 30 units of social housing in Pierrefonds in the coming years, but the details are not finalized.

Jim Beis, the borough mayor of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, says social housing in the West Island is an "absolute need."

"I've often said it's not because we're on the West Island that we don't have a need for social and affordable housing," said Beis on Monday.

He says he'll be working with the other municipalities in the West Island to apply the necessary resources to increase social housing resources.

Pierrefonds-Roxboro Borough Mayor Jim Beis says increasing the amount of social housing in the West Island is an 'absolute need.' (Jean-François Vachon)