Group urges leniency for Gatineau's homeless as curfew nears

·3 min read

A group that advocates on behalf of homeless people in Gatineau, Que., is calling for a moratorium on ticketing near that city's shelters and warming centres during Quebec's provincewide curfew.

The overnight curfew, which is being introduced to help curb rising COVID-19 rates in the province, comes into effect Saturday. Anyone caught outside between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. can face a fine ranging from $1,000 to $6,000, with very few exceptions.

Homelessness is not one of them, and that concerns advocates.

"[Homeless] people will still circulate in the streets," said Melissa Roy, co-ordinator of Collectif régional de lutte à l'itinérance en Outaouais. "It's not feasible to think that they can find a safe indoor space to stay for nine straight hours."

Shelters nearly full

Quebec Premier François Legault has said there's enough indoor shelter space to accommodate the province's homeless population during the curfew, but Roy said Gatineau's shelters are already on the verge of overflowing.

"Out of 99 places available [in the city's homeless shelters], more than 95 were occupied for half of the month of December, so often people will show up to a shelter and then are turned away," she said.

There's the financial constraint, but there's also the added psychological pressure of having these accumulated tickets and these encounters with police officers. - Melissa Roy, Collectif régional de lutte à l'itinérance en Outaouais

The financial penalties are daunting, especially for someone who's already down on their luck, Roy said.

"There's the financial constraint, but there's also the added psychological pressure of having these accumulated tickets and these encounters with police officers," she said. "By having an explicit moratorium, we hope that this could ease some fears and ensure that these people won't be unfairly targeted."

Quebec's Public Safety Minister Geneviève Guilbault said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that police will help homeless people find a safe place to stay, not issue them fines.

"We wish to help the homeless and not inundate them with tickets," she said in French.

Women fleeing abuse also at risk

Roy's group will meet with Gatineau police Friday to discuss a plan for dealing with people who are in precarious situations.

Roy said there's already been talk of establishing a "perimeter of tolerance" around homeless shelters in the city's Hull sector, a sort of exclusion zone where people can be outside at night without facing fines.

There are also fears the steep fines could discourage women from fleeing violent or otherwise abusive situations, said Roy.

"Either they will stay indoors and tensions will rise and things will blow up, or they may go outside, and then if they have an encounter with a police officer at this point, I mean, this could exacerbate their issues," she said.

Roy said she has similar concerns for rooming house tenants. While they have a place to stay at night, tensions can sometimes boil over in those environments and residents need to get out to avoid conflict, she said.