Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand says he wants the provincial and federal governments to feel the same anger he does when he sees just how many people in the province still have no place to live.
The gathering came on the heels of public health data released earlier this week that found the number of people experiencing homelessness had nearly doubled over four years in Quebec, now totalling 10,000.
“We have to be frustrated, we have to live with our anger and take it somewhere that will mobilize us to something better, somewhere like Finland,” he told reporters Friday.
A former president of the local branch of Centraide, Marchand has spent much of his career campaigning on the idea of eradicating homelessness entirely — a project he calls “itinérance zéro.”
He says he still believes achieving that goal is possible in the long term, but says it will take a lot more than money on the government’s part.
“We’re expecting in the weeks to come to have a plan — to have results, to have data,” he said.
Marchand wants to see the province develop a plan like Finland’s Housing First model, where people are provided with social housing before having to answer sensitive questions on addiction or mental health.
Experts from Finland, who spoke at the summit, highlighted the importance of taking a judgment-free approach to housing.
Meanwhile, as hundreds gathered at the summit, many noted the absence of Quebec Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau.
The minister wasn’t scheduled to be there, but some, including the mayors present, questioned why that was.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante echoed calls made by community groups and the official opposition earlier this week, asking for an interministerial committee on homelessness.
“It has to be a priority for the entire government. It’s not about putting a band-aid anymore. It’s a surgery — we need a surgery on this,” Plante said.
She said an interministerial committee would allow the finance minister, housing minister, health minister and others to work more closely and communicate better in order to establish a plan on how best to help the unhoused.
In an email, Duranceau’s office told Global News she was not at the summit because homelessness is Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant’s file, but that her team was there, and regularly works with Carmant.
The social services minister himself admitted Friday that his government has not done enough to support people experiencing homelessness.
“What I’m saying is that we need to stop what we’re seeing now, which is increasing numbers,” Carmant said. “It’s really a change in culture that we need to do, and we’re starting to see it in mental health and in dependencies, but it’s (about) bringing care to the people.”
Carmant said his next step is to get more people in supportive housing and to do another official count of the unhoused population next year.
He added he plans on meeting with experts and municipal officials to establish how often and how best to collect data on homelessness, to get a more accurate and updated picture of the situation and cater solutions to the cities’ needs.
Earlier this week, the government announced an additional $15.5 million in funding to help shelters and community groups prepare for the winter ahead.
More measures are expected to come when the province tables its economic update in November.