We’re all hearing it more and more often. Residents upset about the prospect of an emergency service centre for homeless people or a safe injection site going into their neighbourhood or near the schools their children attend.
Last week in a town just south of Edmonton, a group opposing the creation of a 147-bed homeless shelter stated the town couldn’t handle that kind of facility. Their leader, Debbie Hunker, said “People ask me, ‘Where are they going to go? What are we going to do?’ It sounds maybe a little bit heartless to say, [but] that’s not my problem.”
With homelessness having risen 30% in Montreal since the Covid-19 pandemic, to a minimum of 4,690 individuals on any given day, we need to have an honest conversation about where these people are going to go.
Ideally, homeless people go into permanent housing with professional counselling and support if necessary. But with a 1% rental vacancy rate in Montreal for affordable apartments and new supply only trickling in, we will unfortunately continue to rely on existing emergency services and may even need to expand such services in the short term until more extremely affordable housing comes online. To that end, our local health agency is working to expand the network of emergency service beds from 1,600 to almost 1,800.
Where are these additional beds and facilities going to go if communities are resistant and even oppositional? I urge every community and neighbourhood across Montreal to recognize that we all need to play our part in helping the most disadvantaged in society find safe and secure accommodations this winter and all year long. That doesn’t mean residents shouldn’t ask tough questions about new services and facilities in their area and reasonably expect honest and transparent answers from service operators. But the conversation can’t start with “Not in my backyard.”
When the Old Brewery Mission started considering Lachine as the site for one of its social housing projects, our teams made sure to lay the groundwork for its success. We reached out to the borough council, as well as local organizations and roundtables, to hear the population’s concerns. Of course, we met some resistance at first, but worked hard to explain and discuss the project framework with all stakeholders and proactively identify measures that would help ensure social harmony. Today, as we’re about to start construction on the new 18unit housing project, we feel confident that the residents of Lachine are ready to welcome this “newcomer” to the area and recognize the project as a sustainable solution to homelessness.
Our city must find ways to accommodate new facilities across the borough network in an equitable way. Failing to do so will inevitably lead to even more homeless encampments and street homelessness in Montreal.
Let’s be a city that goes from “Not in my backyard” to "Yes, in my backyard.” And let’s do it quickly.