Montreal, Plateau borough want to smooth relations between homeless people and their Milton Park neighbours

·4 min read
Metal fencing was put up at the corner of Park Avenue and Milton Street where a large group of homeless people regularly gather. Advocates and residents say the fencing is causing more problems. (CBC - image credit)
Metal fencing was put up at the corner of Park Avenue and Milton Street where a large group of homeless people regularly gather. Advocates and residents say the fencing is causing more problems. (CBC - image credit)

For the past few years, the empty lot at the corner of Parc Avenue and Milton Street has become a gathering place for a group of homeless people, most of whom are Indigenous, in part due to the proximity of the Open Door day shelter.

While the issue isn't a new one, some advocates say tensions among people who live, work, or even frequent this street corner are rising.

The city of Montreal and the Plateau borough are investing $60,000 into a project where mediators from the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal collaborate with police officers in order to improve relations.

Brett Pineau, executive director of the Native Friendship Centre, told CBC that the money will be used to pay two social mediation workers who will work to reduce tensions between residents, merchants and those living on the street.

He said the investment is building on the success of a pilot project where intervention workers from the centre accompany officers on patrols.

CBC
CBC

The mediators will also work to connect unhoused people with resources.

"We hope by starting early we can make an impact before things start to deteriorate later in the day," said Pineau.

Police cars are a frequent sight in the area, where more than a dozen unhoused people line the sidewalk next to the vacant lot.

After metal fencing was put up on the vacant lot by the owner to deter people hanging out there, one advocate says the move has led to more accidents.

Trying to push them to another neighbourhood to they become someone else's 'issue' is not a humane or a practical or a right thing to do. - John Tessier, co-ordinator at Open Door

Last summer, Inuk woman Kitty Kakkinerk died after being hit by a car on Parc. In January, Raphaël André died just steps from the Open Door shelter.

John Tessier, who works as a co-ordinator at the Open Door, said since the fence was put up, people have been pushed onto the sidewalk and closer to cars and trucks.

"One thing that would be very helpful, an immediate solution in my humble opinion, is to remove the fence so people can hang out off the street," Tessier said.

CBC
CBC

Tessier said during the pandemic, more homeless people have had a difficult time getting services.

"Because of COVID and other factors there may be more people congregating on this specific corner than there have in years past," he said.

Tessier said the investment in two mediation workers is a positive first step, but he feels the homeless people who live on that block should be included in conversations about their future.

Most of all, he said efforts to relocate them won't help.

"Trying to push them to another neighbourhood so they become someone else's 'issue' is not a humane or a practical or a right thing to do," he said.

"If there could be something built specifically for them where they can live in dignity and in peace, that would go a long way."

Residents express concerns

Sandrine Rhodius, a resident of the Milton Park neighbourhood for 20 years, told CBC that she feels the people who spend time on the corner are not being given enough support.

"The government is not spending enough money on the people that are there," she said. "This cannot go on because we the citizens are paying for the non-investment."

Rhodius said instances of public drinking and drug use, rowdy behaviour and yelling have made some residents uncomfortable.

"There's screams all night long, all day long. So how can we actually live here?" she said. "There's no way we can even go to the businesses because we are afraid."

For Tessier, who works with this community every day, he feels locals need to be understanding of their life experience.

"We have people who come here, who live out here, who were in a residential school," he said.

"It's unfortunate that people in the neighbourhood and shop owners may be uncomfortable, but guess what, they've been uncomfortable for many generations too. It's going to take sacrifice on all of our parts, and yes, they have a right to make a living, but these people also have a right to exist. So we're going to have to find some kind of compromise."

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