Montreal tent city residents prepare for a cold winter as city’s plan faces criticism

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MONTREAL —
Weeks after Montreal’s mayor called on residents of a Hochelaga-Maisonneuve tent city to vacate, some remain and are preparing for the coming winter.

On Saturday, Jacques Brochu was adding tarps to his tent in anticipation of colder weather. Brochu was among the first to set up a tent along Notre-Dame St. four months ago.

“Now it’s so big, so huge,” he said. “There’s nearly 100 tents here.”

Mayor Valerie Plante has promised more room in the city’s homeless shelters, many of which are struggling under an increase in demand while also coping with COVID-19 public health measures. Brochu and others in the tent city said they don’t want to stay in the shelters.

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Welcome Hall Mission CEO Sam Watts said the only solution is permanent housing for the homeless.

“The tent city is one of many indications that we need to address the problem,” he said. “We need to address it with permanent housing, not with a series of patches.”

Plante has promised 400 more beds for the homeless for the winter, as well as warming centres throughout the city.

“We have to have our eyes clear about the crisis right now and it’s not going to solve everything,” said Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve Mayor Pierre Lessard-Blais. “Some people will still want to avoid shelters.”

Opposition city councillor Benoit Langevin criticized Plante’s approach, saying there are fewer places for the homeless to go during the pandemic’s second wave than during the first.

“A lot of the emergency measures were cut down and went through a transitioning plan. But it went from 14 temporary shelters to three,” he said.

Brochu said the homeless population has not been consulted enough on finding a long-term solution.

“If you want to make a decision for us, come and ask us what we want,” he said. “There’s no one who is going to take me out of here unless I have my apartment.”

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