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Homeless advocates cry foul over STM covering metro benches

Click to play video: 'Montreal homeless advocates upset with off-limits metro benches'
Montreal homeless advocates upset with off-limits metro benches
In Montreal, homeless advocates are crying foul over the STM's decision to cover benches at the Bonaventure metro station. As Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports, while the measure was done with public safety in mind, many say it leaves the vulnerable out in the cold – Feb 18, 2021

Homeless advocates are calling foul over the STM’s decision to cover benches in the Bonaventure metro station.

A significant seating area frequently used by homeless people in the metro station has been covered by plywood, making it inaccessible.

In the past, the seating area was blocked off by yellow caution tape.

The STM has taken it a step further, completely boxing off the seats and making them unusable.

“To me, it makes no sense,” Benoît Langevin, the official opposition spokesperson on homelessness, said.

Sam Watts from the Welcome Hall Mission said he was struck by the sight.

“I originally thought it was a construction project.”

Read more: Advocates say at least six Montreal homeless people ticketed for curfew offences in first week

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Advocates say this measure unfairly targets the homeless population, who need the space in the cold winter months.

Langevin says the public space is essential, especially when temperatures dip to -20 C.

“It’s freezing outside,” Langevin said.

“Have we already forgotten about (Raphael André), who died less than a month ago freezing to death?”

André’s body was discovered inside a portable toilet in January outside a Montreal shelter.

Read more: Coroner investigating death of Montreal homeless man found inside portable toilet

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The STM in a post on Twitter defends its decision.

“The station remains accessible to the homeless and the measure is to reduce the number of people and improve the flow of foot traffic in the corridor,” it said.

The tweet continues to say the measure is temporary and is not applied in less busy areas of the station.

Philippe Déry, a spokesperson for the STM, said the transit authority had to act after receiving complaints from staff and clients.

“It was really about sanitary measures,” Déry said. “We are in a global pandemic, we needed to do something.”

Click to play video: 'Pandemic exacerbates plight facing homeless Canadians'
Pandemic exacerbates plight facing homeless Canadians

While little seating is left, other areas inside the Bonaventure metro station will remain open for the homeless population.

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“We have lots of corridors, we still have some spaces where homeless persons will be tolerated. We know it’s cold outside,” Déry said.

Watts says the decision is one that needs to be corrected.

“Somebody has an advance degree in doublespeak,” Watts said.

“If this is a public health issue then there are other ways to manage it.”

Both Langevin and Watts are calling on the measure to be removed.

In response, the city told Global News in a statement that “the STM has always shown tolerance towards people experiencing homelessness.”

“These few benches have been condemned from confinement, because compliance with public health instructions, including the 2m distance, is difficult to apply in this place.”

The STM said the benches will remain covered and did not have a timeline for when the boxes will be removed.

 “I don’t have a timetable but it’s temporary for sure,” Déry said.

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