News | Changes to Cabot Square push out homeless and aboriginal communities

The City’s $5.5 million program works to change how space is used

After holding consultation sessions throughout the spring, the City of Montreal has approved a $5.5 million urban revitalization program, known as the Programme particulier d’urbanisme (PPU). Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay stated in a press release in late September that “It’s time to continue the development and enhancement efforts of this central and unique Montreal district.”

The program, proposed by the borough of Ville-Marie, calls for the protection and enhancement of heritage sites and sustainable development. It also calls for a “targeted action plan for homeless,” a plan to build more affordable housing in the area, and the greening of Cabot Square, which is located in Shaughnessy Village along Maisonneuve.

Spokesperson for Ville-Marie borough, Ann-Sophie Harrois, told The Daily in an email that the borough adopted a plan addressing homelessness, targeted particularly at Ville-Marie, in October 2010. She noted that the plan “specifically proposes actions to [be taken] around Cabot Square.”

Kelly Pennington, an Urban Planning undergraduate student at Concordia, learned about the project from a paper she wrote. She told The Daily that, after looking more closely at the “grand scheme of the project,” she noticed that “certain classes of people are being chosen over other classes.”

“They’re saying it’s this key part to Montreal that needs to be brought back to life, which ignores the fact that there are a whole contingent of people who are using that space right now, who call that space home – or at least, temporarily, home,” she continued.

Consultation

The Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) conducted a consultation on the program earlier this year. The consultation included information sessions and meetings where community members and interest groups presented changes and comments on the program.

According to Luc Doray, secretary general of the OCPM, their office did “a lot of promotion of the consultation,” including flyering, an online questionnaire on the OCPM website, advertising in the metro and local newspapers, and a booth at Concordia’s downtown campus.

Doray said they heard more than eighty presentations from community members.

“The feedback was basically in agreement of the proposal of the City, but a lot of people [had] some more fine-tuning comments,” said Doray. He said that the commission submitted its recommendations to the City after six meetings.

Pennington was critical of the effectiveness of the OCPM’s recommendations.

“[The OCPM is] allowed to offer suggestions, but there’s nothing that makes them accountable to what is asked for,” said Pennington.

William Thompson, who has been frequenting Cabot Square for over a decade, was aware of the PPU, but doubted its ability to improve the park.

“This park has been like this for 15 years. It’s going to take more than new benches to make a change,” he said. “It’s a good idea, but all you’re going to do is push the problem somewhere else.”

A First Nations “gathering point”

Ramélia Chamichian, a coordinator for the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Strategy Network, described Cabot Square as “a gathering point where all the aboriginals that come from out of Montreal, that come to Montreal, they gather over there to meet other aboriginal people.”

A subcommittee for the network submitted a brief to the OCPM commission, stating that “the result will likely be continued displacement of aboriginal peoples, which will result in the perpetuation of safety issues, including an increase in the number of arrests.”

The brief also recommended that aboriginal artwork and cultural elements be introduced to the Square, and that aboriginal outreach workers work in the Square.

Chamichian said she did not know if their recommendations had been included in the finalized program.

After the PPU was approved, the same committee presented similar proposals to a newly formed Equipe médiation urbaine, a roundtable with representatives from the City, the Montreal police, and community residents and businesses, as well as one aboriginal representative.

According to Chamichian, the roundtable will be meeting every few weeks over the next months.

The homeless will “adjust”

Pennington said that, while she understood the Shaughnessy Village community’s desires to improve the Square, she felt the homeless population was excluded from consultation on the project.

“Generally they’re probably going to impose a lot more ‘order.’ The plan is to generally tell people to move along if they’re just hanging out there and drinking,” she said. “I don’t mean to say that nobody wants improvements, but if you’re going to make the park nicer, you can’t just move people out.”

One homeless man, who has been sleeping in the metro station entrance near Cabot Square since October, said he wasn’t worried about the implications of the PPU for the homeless population.

“Really it’s not a homeless presence, I’d say it’s more an alcoholic presence. More like people drinking beer and wine and hard liquor…that they might become more strict on,” he said.

“We adjust to situations,” he continued.

Another man in the station, who identified himself as Daddy-O, said he is no longer homeless, but has slept in Cabot Square in the past.

Daddy-O spoke to those who frequently used Cabot Square.

“They’re still gonna come back. [It’s] not gonna work. It’s their home; it remains their home, and nothing gonna move them. I guarantee you that,” he added.


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