Congregation at historic Little Burgundy church fed up with needles, feces piling up out front

·2 min read
Union United Church is 113 years old, and staff hate seeing needles, pipes, urine and feces being left in front of the historic building.  (CBC - image credit)
Union United Church is 113 years old, and staff hate seeing needles, pipes, urine and feces being left in front of the historic building. (CBC - image credit)

The congregation at a 113-year-old church in Little Burgundy is fed up with people using the front of the historic building as a makeshift toilet, and it's calling on the city of Montreal to give people experiencing homelessness more places to do their personal business.

People at Union United Church say they are accustomed to stumbling upon sleeping bags, pipes and needles at the entrance, but the problem has gotten worse during the pandemic.

Lately, things have gotten out of hand, according to Svens Telemaque, an outreach co-ordinator with the church.

"When we arrived we noticed that there was a lot of excrement, people defecating on the steps," he said. "But [yesterday] it was just kind of special because the person actually left their tissue and they left their actual underwear filled with feces," he said.

Svens Telemaque says Union United Church's historical signifiance makes it difficult for him to see human feces, needles, and broken bottles at the front of the building.
Svens Telemaque says Union United Church's historical signifiance makes it difficult for him to see human feces, needles, and broken bottles at the front of the building.(CBC)

Telemaque says he understands people experiencing homelessness may not have many places to go but it doesn't make what he's been seeing any less disheartening.

"This church represents so much history, legacy and so much power and strength to the Black community," he said.

Telemaque says Montreal police have been advised. He says the church was told the acts don't qualify as vandalism but that officers would increase patrols of the area.

"Maybe Montreal needs public bathrooms," he said. "The city needs to look at different options to deal with drug issues and homelessness and not just leaving homelessness... under the rug and hope that it goes away."

There was a lot to clean up at the front of the Union United Church in Little Burgundy.
There was a lot to clean up at the front of the Union United Church in Little Burgundy. (CBC)

At the the height of the pandemic, the city of Montreal installed 139 portable toilets across 14 boroughs. The city says it has spring cleaning patrols out and has "massively deployed" chemical toilets to help keep neighbourhoods clean.

Sheila Woodhouse, the executive director of Nazareth Community, says public spaces are closed and shelters are packed, leaving many people experiencing homelessness with very limited options. Her group helps people dealing with mental health issues, homelessness and addiction.

"They were depending on the libraries, the 24-hour Tim Horton's, the malls where they could use the bathroom," Woodhouse said. "These are areas that are very, very important for people that are homeless, so yes, people are defecating on the streets."

Woodhouse also says the lack of public restrooms presents a major problem for homeless women, especially if they are menstruating

Telemaque says the church is already equipped with security cameras but it's now looking to install bright lights, with the hope they will discourage people from using its front steps as a bathroom.