Montreal’s municipal government must take action to end homelessness

As Montreal’s municipal election draws closer, incumbent candidate Denis Coderre has made a point of addressing the topic of homelessness at length. While Coderre’s emphasis on the topic is laudable, his political posturing must be backed up by transparent and concrete policies to improve existing shelters and eliminate law enforcement’s targeting of those experiencing homelessness.

A 2015 study commissioned by Coderre found that over 3,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Montreal (this particular study doesn’t account for those who lack a permanent address; for example, those living in hotels or with friends). Coderre has worked with the Movement to End Homelessness in Montreal (MMFIM) to create an action plan that aims to eliminate homelessness in the city by 2020. He has supported the MMFIM by granting the organization $140,000 annually over a five-year period starting in 2015; however, this sum of money is negligible compared to the $39.5 million the combined federal and municipal governments invested in lighting the Jacques Cartier Bridge for Montreal’s 375th anniversary. We must challenge the city of Montreal to invest in its people rather than the colonial celebration its anniversary represents, especially since Indigenous people are over-represented within the homeless population in Montreal.

While there have been other initiatives to address homelessness in Montreal, they are not enough. In 2016, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) announced service points in five metro stations to give shelter to people experiencing homelessness. In 2014, Coderre called for the removal of “anti-homeless” spikes placed in store windows to prevent people from sitting and sleeping in front of the stores. Last week, as part of his electoral campaign, he announced plans to implement wet shelters, which are spaces where people experiencing both homelessness and alcohol dependency can receive care from health professionals. While city officials have taken steps to improve living conditions for those experiencing homelessness, many community organizations have criticized Coderre for only combatting these conditions just before the mayoral elections. For example, the city’s existing shelters have been in disrepair and often dangerous for those who need them, yet nothing has been done to address this during Coderre’s term of office.

Coderre had also previously both allowed and implemented policies that criminalize homelessness. In 2015, the city closed Parc Émilie-Gamelin and la Place de la Paix, which resulted in the displacement of homeless populations who were accustomed to sleeping in these places. The enactment of closing hours in parks, typically from 11p.m. to 6a.m., also enables arbitrary policing of these spaces, which usually affects marginalized communities, especially those experiencing homelessness. The municipal government has ticketed 65,000 homeless people over the last 15 years, including 30,000 in the last five years, for jaywalking, for sitting in parks, or for other minor offences. This relentless ticketing effectively traps homeless people in a vicious circle of debt.

We call on Coderre and the other candidates to tackle the issue of homelessness beyond pre-electoral tactics. They must take action against the harassment perpetrated by the police, change bylaws that criminalize homelessness, improve existing shelters, and substantially increase the funding dedicated to ending homelessness in Montreal.

The McGill Daily editorial board