Montreal looks to hire someone to oversee dismantling of homeless encampments

·3 min read
City workers remove debris following fire at what was once a homeless encampment on Notre-Dame Street in late 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
City workers remove debris following fire at what was once a homeless encampment on Notre-Dame Street in late 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The city of Montreal is looking to hire a full-time liaison to the city's homeless population who will be in charge of kicking people out of encampments.

The posting went up earlier this month and expired Wednesday. It describes the mandate of the new position as responsible for co-ordinating the "actions to be taken during the eviction or dismantling of temporary shelters, camps and tents on public and private property."

The salary ranges from $56,000 to $73,000.

The liaison will be expected to respond to citizen complaints about temporary shelters, communicating with property owners and staying in contact with local organizations, the post says.

This comes after two years of cracking down on homeless encampments that sprang up in different parts of the city during the pandemic.

Such operations are carried out by social workers with "great sensitivity," said Marikym Gaudreault, a spokesperson for Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

"This is why we are looking for specialized employees, we want these operations to be carried out with the greatest respect for vulnerable people to redirect them to specialized resources," she said.

"They are asked to act gradually and humanely while respecting the dignity of vulnerable people."

But earmarking tens of thousands in funding for such a position when resources are already stretched thin doesn't sit well with Catherine Marcoux of RAPSIM, a network of organizations that work with people experiencing homelessness.

"It's very worrisome for us that municipalities and the city decide to offer positions like this with a really high salary when we know that there's a lack of resources and funding everywhere," she said.

"What's the logic of pushing people further and further away and dismantling? It's a repressive practice and it only disperses people away from their natural networks."

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Gaudreault said the city's priority is to connect those living in encampments with social workers, emergency accommodations and housing solutions.

The city is currently short 300 emergency housing spots, Gaudreault said, but these camps are not a long-term nor a safe solution.

"We want homelessness resources to be increased in Montreal, so we are working with community organizations and our government partners to get out of the summer," she said.

Early on in the pandemic, the city was tolerating camping in public spaces, but quickly began closing certain sites when issues arose. Then a large encampment on Notre-Dame Street in the city's east end became the centre of attention as authorities worked for months to encourage people to leave. Finally, by the end of the year, the site was shut down.

Newer attempts to form smaller camps have been quickly shut down as the city took a firm stance on the issue, citing safety concerns.

Nowadays, various resources have opened to help serve the overflow of demand, but they are still not meeting the community's needs, according to the director of emergency services at the Old Brewery Mission, Émilie Fortier. She said more resources are needed.

While people experiencing homelessness used to gather mostly downtown, they are now more spread out in all the neighbourhoods — especially in places like Hochelaga and Plateau-Mont-Royal, she said.

As for the presence of camps in certain neighbourhoods, it comes with its share of challenges, Fortier said. People there are living without services or safety, she said.

"It's a matter of choice," she said. "Because it can be difficult for some homeless people to sleep in dormitories with several other people."

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