The deadline came and went on Monday for the dismantling of the tent city along Notre-Dame Street in Montreal’s east end. The city issued a statement late Monday claiming that encampment is not a sustainable solution and that residents will have to relocate eventually.
“We have not planned to forcibly dismantle the Notre-Dame encampment,” said city spokesperson Laurence Houde-Roy, adding that the aim to accompany the campers and redirect them to resources in the community.
In addition to three homeless shelters opened in the city last week, another emergency shelter was opened near the encampment on Monday with enough space for 65 people.
“It’s through a series of interventions that we will favour this transition,” said Houde-Roy.
But opening more homeless shelters is not the solution according to housing advocates and to the residents of tent city. They want more social housing, considering that at least 23,000 people are currently on a waiting list at the Office municipal d’habitation de Montreal.
“You don’t want to build social housing, we’re gonna make ourselves social housing,” said Richard Lampron, president of the Comité-Bails Hochelaga Montreal.
“The federal government doesn’t put any money into social housing, Quebec tried to put a bit but it’s not enough and Montreal doesn’t have enough money to put in social housing.”
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Housing activists say several encampments have emerged across the city, including in Westmount’s Selby Park. The encampments are a product of the current housing crisis coupled with the effects of the pandemic, according to housing advocates.
“There is a shortage of housing so it’s really difficult. The prices of the rents are really high in Montreal; there’s 1.6 per cent only in the vacancy rate,” said Catherine Lussier of FRAPRU, adding that low-income earners are the hardest hit.
Statistics from the 2016 census show that close to 87,000 Montrealers spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent, when the norm is considered to be closer to 30 percent. Advocates worry that the proportion of people paying too much for housing will only increase.
While the city is hoping the campers will voluntarily relocate to homeless shetlers, that’s not what they want.
“They want an apartment, they want a house, they want a place to live that’s stable for them so that’s what most of them are with demanding today and that’s why they’re staying here. They don’t want to go back to homeless shelters,” said Lussier, who was one of dozens of supporters at the Notre-Dame encampment on Monday.
Despite the Aug. 31 deadline, some 45 tents are still standing in the green space, owned by Quebec’s transport ministry. The land was purchased to for an extension of the Ville-Marie Highway, that was eventually cancelled in 2010.
“We offered the land to the City of Montreal in order for them to make a park,” said Sarah Bensadoun from Transports Quebec.
“We’re not using this particular site and it doesn’t have an impact on our daily operations so for us it is not a problem.”
In order to dismantle the encampment, the city will need to make an official request to the transport ministry.
“If the City of Montreal judges that there is a problem in terms of sanitation, security either for the campers or for the residents in the neighbourhood, then we will discuss about a particular intervention,” said Bensadoun, adding that any action will be coordination with the city and police.
Meanwhile, the growing traffic of people and mounting garbage in Parc Dezery is rubbing some residents the wrong way.
“My issue with the tent city is that it’s definitely affected my quality of life,” said Randy Kellar. Kellar is running out of patience and hopes the city steps in, even though he knows first-hand how devastating the housing shortage can be.
“I don’t want to live in this neighbourhood but last year I got stuck looking for an apartment and because I have a dog made it more difficult,” said Kellar.
“If these people want to camp somewhere, then the city should find a place that’s not going to disturb any residents.”