The extreme cold in Quebec this month of January is close to -40 degrees; typical of our beautiful winters. But these are unsustainable conditions for homeless people. And this winter, homelessness faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
In response to this crisis, the mayoress of Montreal, Mrs. Valérie Plante, carrying the figures transmitted by the Integrated University Health and Social Services Center (CIUSSS) of the Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, reiterated in his press briefing last Thursday that the metropolis had enough emergency places – 1,900 – to accommodate homeless people.
And she is right.
There are actually 1900 places in Montreal.
So why, if there are enough places, have we come to the opening of metro stations as the ultimate solution to a problem that remains deeply human, medical and societal? A problem resulting from a misunderstanding of the intrinsic causes of the state of homelessness.
And why do community organizations, including us, La rue des Femmes, invalidate these figures which do not correspond to the reality on the ground experienced day after day?
Because we, too, are right… or… have several reasons. Because it’s not about places, but about people. Denounce, yes. Explain, yes. Understand, a necessity to rectify the shooting… to prevent and avoid other tragedies; because next winter… winter will come again.
1900 places, yes but:
1900 less the effects of the pandemic and the sanitary measures which required the closure of a very large part of these beds: dare I say almost half? In the absence of being able to modify our structures, it was necessary to reduce the offer of services.
1900 minus the reality of burgeoning accommodation, forced to close, like a refrain, further reducing the supply of places, without notice.
1900 minus the causal adaptation between weakened and reduced teams due to quarantine and the number of possible admissions; because the noble values, reasons for being of the community, do not protect us against the Covid or its effects. Thus, at La rue des Femmes, more than 25% of our workers are off work; compromising the number of our emergency beds at any time.
1900 less this tendency, for a few years, to use beds dedicated to emergency accommodation to transform them into transitional accommodation. The basics of emergency accommodation, and therefore of humanitarian accommodation, are free, without constraint, anonymity, confidentiality and for one night, THIS night. As for transitional accommodation, it is intended for a period of a few months, subject to the payment of rent, and aims for a medium-term objective, whatever it may be. But the vital need for emergency beds remains… and is essential.
So yes, 1900 places for people in a state of homelessness… minus those closed by health measures, minus those occupied by transition programs, minus those closed by outbreaks and/or the lack of employees. How many accessible emergency beds are there actually left? How many homeless people are sleeping in one of these places TONIGHT?
This is the real debate, a debate that speaks of people, stories and sufferings of life, and not of places. Let’s get out of the validity of the 1900 places. The urgency… so aptly named, is to recognize the validity of beds that are empty or used for purposes other than their initial purpose. There is the need, in order to allow everyone to be warm and safe tonight. And every other night. Opening metro stations as emergency accommodation confirms questioning and reflection.
And humanly, to get out of the political figures: how many homeless people are out, day and night, without being able to have access to one of these 1,900 beds?
Leonie Couture, Founding President of La rue des Femmes