“We’re happy,” May Chiu of the Chinatown Roundtable told Global News. “If that space is available we want to use it.
“We want to use it for the services of the community, housed and unhoused.”
They want to create a sports and leisure centre for Chinatown in the space which once housed a YMCA, the neighbourhood’s only sports facility. It closed in 2019.
“Even when the YMCA existed, it did provide services for the homeless or people with disabilities,” Chiu pointed out.
Public Services and Procurement Canada owns the complex, and since the YMCA closed the community has been asking for the space.
The building was turned into a homeless shelter during the pandemic and recently, residents and business owners have blamed filth, noise, even aggression and vandalism on the shelter’s clients.
The federal government says it plans major renovations, hence the closure of the shelter. Now the Chinatown community sees a renewed opportunity.
It’s just one of the options the neighbourhood is considering to help revitalize the area, with a focus on co-habitation, in the wake of recent problems with street drug addiction and violence.
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Noted Chiu, “It’s a crisis of crime; it’s a crisis of mental health; it’s a crisis of addictions; it’s a crisis of poverty.”
Much of the problem, according to homeowners and community workers, originates on Clark Street, which is home to a number of abandoned buildings. Merchants and homeowners have been arguing for weeks that a stretch of four buildings on Clarke, beside Brady Lane, are harbouring drug dealers and users.
They include one rooming house that people in the area call a drug den.
Those pushing for revitalization, like Samuel Vanzin, Chinatown Roundtable’s lead person on housing, are eying those buildings for use as social housing.
“By developing housing we think we can bring more people, bring families and have people who work in Chinatown be able to live nearby,” he explained.
For all these projects, he points out, help is needed from all levels of government.
Montreal does have a five-year action plan to revitalize Chinatown and Mayor Valérie Plante reiterated Tuesday that she is taking steps to address the recent drug and homelessness problems in the area.
“How do we make sure that people have a roof over their head, because living in the street, (drug) dealing, having an opioid crisis is not what we want,” she told reporters.
People living and working in the area insist, however, that the city needs to put something in place quickly and plan to announce plans later this week, to put pressure on authorities.