Federal housing advocate pushes back against Quebec plans to dismantle homeless encampment
The federal government's housing advocate is urging Quebec to hold off on dismantling homeless encampments in Montreal, including a popular one located under a highway downtown.
Quebec's Transport Ministry says major work is needed on Route 136 between the Turcot Interchange and the Ville-Marie Tunnel and it can't be completed if people continue to live under the structure.
If the people don't leave voluntarily, the ministry says it will have to force them.
"The campsite that is underneath Route 136 is located on property owned by the ministry, which is now a construction zone," said Sarah Bensadoun, a spokesperson with the Transport Ministry.
"It is not safe for us to do the work while keeping the campers on site."
Last year, Marie-Josée Houle was appointed as Canada's first housing advocate, which is a nonpartisan role. Part of her job is to recommend improvements to the country's housing laws.
On Wednesday, Houle took to Twitter and wrote "forced evictions of encampments are a violation of human rights."
"Evictions increase risks to people's health and safety due to isolation, exposure, overdose, and violence," Houle wrote.
"As I undertake a nationwide review of homeless encampments, I want to stress that all levels of government have obligations to promote and protect the human rights of encampment residents."
The province's Transport Ministry was planning to move in and force people to leave the encampment. Faced with public pressure, however, the ministry postponed the eviction.
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness have said that until governments provide people with a permanent place to stay, they should not move in and tear down encampments.
There are also concerns that if the residents of the camp disperse, community groups will have a harder time finding and helping them.
Bensadoun says the ministry is working with the city, local health authorities and community groups to assist those who need to relocate.
She says the construction work will ramp up as the weather gets warmer, and the people living under route 136 have a few more weeks to move.