Quebec's Transport Ministry says it is postponing the eviction of people living beneath the Ville-Marie Expressway in Montreal until it can help with their relocation.
To clear the way for maintenance work, the ministry gave those residing under the expressway about two weeks' notice to vacate the area by Thursday.
Following community outcry, the ministry suspended the eviction notice on Wednesday with no new deadline to leave.
"We want to give them time to find alternatives that will respond to their actual needs," said Sarah Bensadoun, a spokesperson for the ministry.
"The thing is, the Ministry of Transportation and Mobility does not have an expertise on the housing system or housing businesses."
The Transport Ministry will work with the city of Montreal, the Ministry of Social Services and community organizations like Diogene, Dialogue and EMIS, said Bensadoun.
When people heard the news that the eviction was suspended, they ran from tent to tent hugging each other and celebrating.
"If you look at their postures here today compared to yesterday, you can see a distinctive difference — there's an air of relief and definite celebration," said David Chapman, the executive director of the Resilience Montreal shelter.
People had been coming to Resilience Montreal daily since they received the eviction notice with nowhere else to go, said Chapman. He is skeptical the city will be able to properly care for those who will be evicted from the encampment as no clear commitments have been made to move forward.
"Unfortunately there still exists a strong sense of paternalism," Chapman said. "The idea of really listening to people and hearing what they need and actually responding in accordance with what they're saying is still strikingly rare."
With long waiting lists for social housing, overflowing shelters with tight rules around substance use and pets, an increase in homelessness and the approach of winter, the people living under the expressway are already in a "survival camp," Resilience Montreal said in a news release.
"[The MTQ] will need a better plan for sure," said Chapman, who will be consulting with those living in the encampment on what they need moving forward.
The area beneath the expressway was turned into a construction site mid-September and work on six major arteries of Route 136, which Bensadoun says "cannot be delayed," is expected to go on until 2025.
"This is a site that belongs to the Transport Ministry so it is private property and property that isn't suitable for any type of housing," said Bensadoun.