Debate over best solution to Montreal’s homeless problem
MONTREAL – Pierre Gaudreau, who directs a coalition of organizations for the homeless, stood in front of one of Montreal’s most notorious addresses to, using his description, sound the alarm over the reallocation of millions in federal funds.
“The federal government wants to go towards only one type of help, the housing first approach,” he said, as he stood in the trash-strewn backyard of 3911 Ste-Catherine East, in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, a building that was vacated in October after being gutted by a fire.
“The federal government, the Tory approach, is to rent private dwellings and to have homeless people to live there.”
At the crux of Gaudreau’s complaint are differing visions of how to deal with the city’s homeless population, which accounts for tens of thousands of people by some estimates.
‘Housing First’ is a pilot project in Canada’s biggest cities. The centrepiece of the program involves putting the homeless up in apartments in the private sector, rather than building social housing for them.
In the case of Montreal, a Housing First landlord would be insured against damage and any psychological needs a tenant would have, which would be handled by the Douglas Hospital. There are 73 landlords signed up for Housing First, according to Douglas researcher Eric Latimer.
“For the great majority, their preference is to be in an apartment on their own, and they can make it in an apartment on their own,” Latimer said. “Most chronically, homeless people are mentally ill. And for those who are chronically mentally ill and homeless, Housing First is an integrated approach.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Gaudreau points to a recent coroner’s report on the January 2012 death of Farshad Mohammedi at the Bonaventure Metro as proof that Housing First has problems. Mohammedi was housed in a Housing First program, but had been evicted; at the time of his death program workers were looking for a new place to live.
Gaudreau pointed to the boarded-up apartment building, which L’Avenue Hebergement is planning to turn into social housing for almost 30 people, as a potential solution to this sort of problem. The new facility would include on-site social workers and other interventionists.
“We need [a] social housing project like this one, but we need more psychological help, we need more workers on the street to help the homeless,” he said.
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