The City of Montreal is adding its voice to eight community organizations in asking the provincial government to change its approach when it comes to the issue of homelessness.
“The way the government of Quebec and the health network is managing homelessness is not sustainable,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante during a joint press conference in Montreal on Thursday.
“It’s based on seasons,” she said, adding that the needs of those experiencing homelessness don’t end when winter ends.
As it stands now, winter emergency measures such as temporary overnight shelters will no longer be available as of March 31, meaning hundreds of beds will be lost.
Community groups argue a season-to-season approach makes it difficult to plan ahead and adopt long-term solutions that are needed to get people off the street.
“Let’s change how the services are provided and really provide a continuum of services as they are needed — not from Dec. 1 to March 31, but 12 months a year, 24/7 and adapted to the specific community, be it Indigenous people, women or youth,” said Heather Johnston, executive director of Projets Autochtones du Québec.
In the immediate future, the city and the various community groups including Projets Autochtones, The Old Brewerey Mission, Mission Bon Accueil and Accueuil Bonneau, to name a few, would like to see winter resources kept in place.
“We can’t close facilities that are already full. Like what is the alternative?” asked James Hughes of the Old Brewery Mission.
But over time, a plan drawn up by the eight community groups, and presented to the city and the province in June, would see the need for the number of emergency beds decrease.
The group’s vision is to get people off the street permanently, but it has to be done right.
“You can’t just move people into housing who have lived chronic homelessness,” said Fiona Crossling, executive director of Accueil Bonneau.
“We’re talking about people who are deeply traumatized by different things in life.”
To be successful, she said, those people need continued support including access to health and social services.
Plante supports their vision and says ultimately the long-term solution to homelessness resides in housing.
With upcoming budgets at the federal and provincial levels, Plante reiterated calls for more government funding for social and subsidized housing.
Specifically, Plante is demanding that Montreal receive at least 60 per cent of the 1,600 spots available under the Quebec government’s rent supplement program.
The mayor is also hoping for investments to build at least 300 new social housing units for the homeless every year.
In October 2021, Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant announced a five-year, $280-million action plan to fight homelessness.
But those working in the field say it’s been five months and no details have been released.
“That money has been announced but it’s sitting in somebody’s bank account. It’s not accessible and nor do we know how it will be distributed,” Crossling said.
A spokesperson for Carmant told Global News that the minister will discuss the issue with the mayor in forthcoming meetings.
— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez.