Editorial: Every night that passes, our government gambles with the lives of the unhoused

Carl Bindman

In October, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante increased the budget in services for the homeless and pledged to expand on current resources in response to the death of Raphael André. Elisapie Pootoogook’s passing reminds us that people should not be dying for action to be taken. Systemic change at every level of government must occur to address the current negligence of unhoused people.

People forced to live on the streets should be enough to warrant immediate action—more so during winter.

From reports in October, rates of homelessness in the city have nearly doubled in comparison to pre-pandemic levels with 4,000 Montrealers without housing. 

In a survey conducted by IcountMTL, it was found that more than half of the province’s population without housing can be found in Montreal.

The city’s mayor has just recently promised to double the budget for services to aid the unhoused.  This is not enough as shelter services and emergency resources remain extremely few and far between, with those available being unable to serve a large majority of people due to limited capacities.

Places that offer immediate services such as the Raphael Andre warming tent in Cabot square provide little more than a dozen spots available for up to 300 people on any given night.

More funding is required. Space is required. Indigenous-led shelters are required. Accessibility for  those who use substances are required. Permanent solutions are required.

While the consequences of COVID-19 and the housing crisis have exacerbated the circumstances for the unhoused, it remains largely a problem caused by a lack of concern towards people in need.

Plante has called the unhoused situation in Milton Parc a “humanitarian crisis” where “dozens of people are living in a situation of great human distress under extremely difficult conditions.” 

This is ironic considering the anti-homeless architecture appearing across the city under her administration.

From the Toronto Police Service clearing homeless encampments in Lamport Stadium Park, the SPVM clearing an encampment in Hochelaga, and an alarming increase in fines being given to the unhoused in Montreal, it is clear that there is a systematic effort in further ignoring marginalized voices, rather than aiding them.

Furthermore, Inuit people make up a large portion of Montreal's unhoused population.

According to the Makivik Corporation, 45 per cent of homeless Indigenous people in the city are Inuit, yet they account for only 10 per cent of the Indigenous population in Montreal.

Forced assimilation, residential schools, land loss, loss of self-determination, institutional marginalization, and the disruption of traditional lifestyle are just some of the factors that have caused rates of poverty among Inuit people. 

Our society is dealing with the settler-colonial consequences of a settler-colonial system. There needs to be a complete revision of this system and immediate reversal against the factors that have caused it.