Montreal's Lachine borough is proposing a new approach to financing the fight against homelessness in the district.
In a motion passed at borough council Monday night, councillors proposed that revenue from Quebec's cannabis retailer, the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC), be reinvested to combat homelessness in Lachine.
Why the SQDC?
"It is a new source of profit, a new source of revenue for the government of Quebec," said Lachine Mayor Maja Vodanovic in an interview with CBC's Daybreak.
"And it is the provincial government's responsibility to take care of homelessness," she said.
Vodanovic believes the soaring SQDC's sales could respond to the needs of Lachine's most vulnerable populations.
Last fiscal year, the SQDC made a net profit of more than $75 million from the sale of 109,351 kilograms of cannabis, according to its 2022 annual report. That compares with a net profit of about $66 million in 2021 and $26 million in 2020.
"We are rich enough to solve this issue. We cannot have people that are on the street in our rich society," said Vodanovic.
In a statement to CBC News, the SQDC said while it appreciates the fact that homelessness is an important social issue, it does not have the authority to decide how to allocate the revenues that come from the sale of cannabis.
It said the revenues from sales go to a government fund dedicated to fighting addiction, which is managed by Quebec's Finance Ministry. Part of the revenues are then deposited in the Cannabis Prevention and Research Fund, which is managed by the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS).
"The [Health Ministry] decides where and how the money in this fund is allocated," the SQDC said.
Quebec says cannabis fund already helping
In a statement to CBC News, the Health Ministry said $91.9 million from the Cannabis Prevention and Research Fund has been invested in "various structuring solutions to fight homelessness" over the next five years as part of its 2021-2026 homelessness action plan.
The ministry said it recognizes that the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased with the pandemic and the situation is being taken "very seriously."
It said homelessness is a collective responsibility from both the health sector and from other sectors of intervention, including housing, education and public security.
"We are continuing our efforts to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. If further investments are to be announced, they will be in due course," the statement reads. The ministry said it would not elaborate further.
According to the latest estimates, there are approximately 6,000 people experiencing visible homelessness in Quebec, the ministry said.
No more spaces for homeless in Lachine
Despite some SQDC revenue already invested to combat homelessness in the province, Vodanovic said her municipality needs direct funding to support community workers who are fighting the crisis hands-on.
"We depend on provincial money. So we're asking for more provincial money so that the organizations that are on the ground here can take care of [these people]," she said.
Vodanovic said the provincial government only gives the borough $3 million for public works. She said that money is not enough to combat the growing issue of homelessness.
"We see it more and more," said Vodanovic. "We see it in the streets of Lachine and we see people in tents."
Lachine had opened up a homeless shelter last winter in a church basement, but Vodanovic said it had to close due to lack of funds. She said the borough has since been unable to keep up with demand.
LISTEN | Lachine mayor explains how this money could end homelessness:
"By the end of this month, there will be no place for homeless people to live," she said.
Soon, a new SQDC will be opening on Notre-Dame Street in Lachine, and Vodanovic is asking that its profits be shared with Montreal's municipalities.
"This could help us so much. We need the money."