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Homeless advocates perplexed by decision to install skating rink in Cabot Square

Click to play video 'Homeless advocates perplexed by decision to install skating rink in Cabot Square' Homeless advocates perplexed by decision to install skating rink in Cabot Square
WATCH ABOVE: The City of Montreal has plans to install a refrigerated ice rink in Cabot Square in an effort to encourage harmonious cohabitation between residents in the area and the homeless people who regularly visit the square. As Global's Olivia O'Malley reports, community advocates have some concerns – Nov 28, 2020

Cabot Square has been a gathering spot for the homeless population for years and especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past nine months, with shelters closed, the park, located in Montreal’s Ville-Marie borough, became a place of refuge.

Now, the City of Montreal has plans to install a refrigerated ice rink in Cabot Square in an effort to encourage harmonious cohabitation between residents in the area and the homeless people who regularly visit.

“You need to take kind of baby steps into this,” said Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

“I’m not quite sure if the skating rink is a baby step; it’s probably a giant step.”

Nakuset says the city approached her with the idea and she shared her concerns. Shortly after, city officials met with other community leaders and plans to install the rink were finalized.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Cabot Square day shelter opens, employees still waiting for masks, gloves

There are still questions surrounding what the rink will actually look like. The city said it will be located somewhere outside the Atwater Metro exit and take up about one-sixth of the square.

Click to play video 'Montreal helping city’s homeless off the streets for winter' Montreal helping city’s homeless off the streets for winter
Montreal helping city’s homeless off the streets for winter – Nov 29, 2020

Nakuset is aware of the coming changes to Cabot Square and said she’s planning to work alongside the city, but she questions the inclusivity of the plan.

“If you have some kind of activity that they [the homeless people] can’t participate in, then they just become observers, right? And it’s their spot, they’re here all the time.”
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One homeless man, who said he has frequented Cabot Square for years, feels like the city didn’t consult the proper people.

“I think that when they make decisions and policies that are obstructive to the community and the people that live in that environment without questioning them, without asking them, it becomes a violation of the constitution in that it doesn’t give us the voice to agree or disagree,” said Nogeeshik Michael Isaac.

Read more: Montreal to open homeless shelter with supervised alcohol consumption in 2021

In a statement to Global News, a city spokesperson said the project aims to provide a lively winter outdoor space, where there are no public sports facilities. Community groups as well as residents were consulted, and the downtown YMCA team will be on hand to unify the community and offer an inclusive space.

“I think it’s atrocious, I think it’s pompous,” said volunteer Diane Gervais.

She says she isn’t against the idea of cohabitation, she just wants to see it be done properly.

“If there’s enough space for them to still gather, because this is their meeting place.”

Read more: Temporary winter shelter for homeless to open in the West Island

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Residents, on the other hand, are looking forward to strapping on their skates.

“I would definitely love to skate around here,” said Malek Dabbous, who has been a resident in the borough for 20 years.

I think it would be brilliant,” said resident Shannon Reid. “That square is kind of wasted, so I think it would be good usage of the space for sure.”

The city hopes to have the rink up and running this December.