Every now and then, David Chapman, executive director for the non-profit day shelter, Resilience Montreal, checks in on the more than 20 people living under the Ville-Marie Expressway, west of Atwater Avenue in Westmount, near downtown Montreal.
Some of the people living there have been waiting for a low-income apartment for as long as five years, and Chapman, with his team at Resilience Montreal, has been trying to help them.
“We’re in the process of hunting for six apartments at the moment,” he told Global News while visiting the campers. “Some for couples, some for folks who are single.”
A few weeks ago Transport Québec, who owns the property, wanted to evict the campers because of repair work being done on the overpass.
After housing advocates spoke out, the eviction was postponed — a relief to Chapman, who insists it’s safer for the campers to be together like this while they wait to be housed.
“When people are living in tents in a community, there’s greater safety,” Chapman said.
For example if someone overdoses, that person can get help more quickly because there are other people around.
If people are forced to leave a camp such as this, Chapman argued, they become dispersed, alone and have less access to help.
“So you take a marginalized population and you make them more marginalized,” he said.
The eviction delay has bought them time to find some a permanent a home, but Resilience staff say it’s tough with some property owners.
“They always judge what they see,” explained Ronny Laporte, Resilience Montreal intervention worker. “If they think that you’re homeless or whatsoever, right away you get refused.”
So workers accompany clients to reassure the property owners but, according to Laporte, often even that isn’t enough.
Another barrier he pointed to is high rent cost, stressing that something has to change.
“If we’re always going this way, how are we going to to be able to keep people off the streets?” he said.
He and other housing advocates are pleading with property owners to be more understanding.
In spite of the setbacks, though, Chapman got a surprise Tuesday when camper Sabrina Dubeau told him she found an apartment for herself and her boyfriend, also a camper.
According to her, they’ve been living under the overpass, waiting for an apartment, for five years.
All that comes to an end Dec. 1 when they move to their new place in Verdun.
“I’m happy,” she laughed. “Got a bath, shower, bubble bath.”
Chapman even offered to help them move, believing it’s a glimmer of hope before winter arrives.