“They feel a little frustrated, if not angry, about the lack of adequate response from the city or from the police in dealing with crime, with disorder,” explained Fo Niemi, who heads the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a civil rights organization.
One announcement during the meeting was enough to ease the mind of some in attendance — the decision to close a shelter for the unhoused at the former YMCA site at the end of October this year.
“It’s a positive step for Chinatown,” said May Chiu, coordinator of the Chinatown Roundtable. “I know that the residents are going to be so relieved.”
Numerous residents have complained about the increase in the homeless population in the area. Resident after resident has spoken to Global News about noise, vandalism and being harassed and assaulted in the area around the shelter.
May cautions, however, that closing the refuge isn’t enough.
“I just don’t think it’s a permanent solution,” she argued, wondering where the unhoused will now go.
Niemi agrees that closing the shelter alone won’t do and pointed out that the city failed to propose enough solutions at the meeting, though it was the second such briefing.
“The situation has really become a little bit more critical and it seems that city and borough civil servants are not really connecting with residents and merchants,” he reasoned. “Not enough empathy is being communicated from city officials.”
According to Chiu, though the Chinatown Roundtable approached the city with possible solutions to empower the community, nothing was done.
“We applied for funding from the City of Montreal, but they shut us down,” she told Global News.
One project she said they wanted to explore was a neighbourhood watch, but now she knows of no projects in the area created to address the security concerns. Chiu believes that because the city isn’t acting, resentment is starting to build against the unhoused population.
However, she cautions against knee-jerk reactions to the problems, and scapegoating the homeless for everything bad in Chinatown.
“It’s really important to take a step back and not increase the stigmatization of any social group that is vulnerable,” she stressed. “Another reaction is the NIMBY, ‘not in my back yard’ thinking, fearing that Chinatown is saturated and that we can’t accept more unhoused persons.”
Chiu insists that the problems are complex and that a plan is needed quickly for co-habitation.
Global News reached out to the city for comment, but officials did not follow up with an interview by our deadline.