Housing rights’ advocates are alarmed at what they see as proof of the shortage of affordable homes in the city.
People are pitching tents and living in public spaces because they say they have nowhere else to live. Some fear the problem will likely get worse before it gets better.
One location is the green space next to Notre Dame Street East in the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Tents are spread out along that stretch but most of them are concentrated in the area around Adhémar-Raynault Park.
It has recently become home to people like Jacques, who didn’t want to give his last name.
“I’ve been here about two weeks now,” he told Global News sitting on a camping chair outside his tent. “I was like the second one to come with a tent here.”
He estimates that there are about fifteen people living here full time as well as others who just show up at night.
“Last night we had maybe 25 people, he said.
Jacques says he lost his apartment last February after seven years because his landlord wanted to hike his rent by $300.
“Since then it’s been very difficult to find an apartment,” he explained.
Housing advocates say other residents at the camp are in the same boat — a worrying sign of the times, they say, adding that the fact that they’re making an appearance at all is disquieting.
Matthew Pearce, president and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission, thinks some of the primary reasons these camps are popping up is the pandemic. He explained that to observe proper distancing protocols, shelters like the Old Brewery had to reduce the number of beds.
“We have normally 285 beds and right now 165 are occupied so we can have distancing,” he pointed out, “but it means there’s 120 in our location alone that are not available.”
He added that temporary shelters were opened in the spring are starting to close. The other reason he points to is the increasing number of people who can’t afford housing because of job losses since the pandemic hit.
“After the 1st of July, some people have lost their apartment and they don’t have a new place to go,” Pearce stressed “and so they’re stuck.”
Just a week ago, a moratorium on tenant evictions during the pandemic was lifted. Now, community groups worry that low-income renters will be at risk of becoming homeless.
According to housing rights group Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain, the number of tenant households on the island of Montreal without a home now stand at 180 since July 1st, 10 times more than the same time last year.
In the long term, Jacques wants governments to build more affordable housing.
“The problem is many, many people pay too much for their housing and they cannot live a suitable life like this,” he emphasized.
“It’s always extreme poverty.”
In a statement, the City of Montreal said, “The borough is working with partners in the field, such as Anonymous, Cap St-Barnabé and Dopamine to ensure the safety of everyone on the premises.
“The City of Montreal continues to increase homelessness interventions with the collaboration of the Emergency Measures Coordination Center in order to support people to the appropriate resources based on the assessment of the needs and the risk for their safety and that of the public.”
Jacques hopes to eventually find a place to rent off-island, but for now, he’s happy where he is.
“Here, it’s a quiet place — well, except for the street,” he laughed, pointing to a busy Notre Dame Street.
Montreal police say they don’t plan to intervene to break up the camp and say they’ve had no complaints, and that they do no automatically evict homeless or vulnerable people who settle temporarily in public spaces.