Mayor Valérie Plante asks Quebec for help with Cabot Square crisis
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante met with Quebec’s health minister last month in hopes of finding a long-term solution to the public health crisis in Cabot Square.
Since January, police and front-line workers in the Atwater Ave. park have noticed a spike in people dying from addiction, people sleeping outside and an increase in assaults against the homeless.
Many used to spend their days at the nearby Open Door to seek health care, food and shelter during the day, but that ended last December when it was forced to move to the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough.
After the Montreal Gazette reported on deteriorating conditions in the park last month, Plante met with Health Minister Danielle McCann and spoke about the possibility of building a new shelter near Cabot Square.
Alexandre Lahaie, the spokesperson for Minister McCann, confirmed that the minister and mayor are discussing funding projects to fight homelessness in the city.
The biggest issue around Cabot Square, much more than government funding, is finding an affordable place to house the shelter. It’s disconcerting,”
“The biggest issue around Cabot Square, much more than government funding, is finding an affordable place to house the shelter. It’s disconcerting,” said Serge Lareault, the city’s official advocate for the homeless. “It was the rising cost of real estate that drove the Open Door out of the area and so replacing it would be quite expensive. Right now everything is on the table. We have to find a sustainable solution here.”
For decades, Cabot Square has been a gathering place for Inuit women living in or visiting the south. It was across Tupper St. from the Children’s Hospital, just a few blocks away from the Northern Module of Quebec and within walking distance of a residence used by medical patients to stay during trips from the remote Nunavik region. It also sat a few blocks away from the St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, a building that housed the Open Door shelter.
But with all of those resources now gone to make way for highrise condos and other developments, there’s a dire need for resources around Atwater Ave.
Lareault said the city’s initial plan was to redirect people in the park to the Open Door’s new location on Parc Ave., about four kilometres east. Some would be told to go to Chez Doris, a nearby women’s drop-in centre, and to a shelter in St-Henri.
But Lareault concedes that tactic hasn’t worked.
Now the city and Ville-Marie borough are working with the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal to hire an additional outreach worker in the park. Initially, the city would put up three months salary for the worker, provided the women’s shelter could show proof they would be able to pay nine months wages themselves.
Since the Montreal Gazette’s reporting on Cabot Square, the city doubled its offer to six months salary and dropped the requirement for the women’s shelter to prove they could pay up front.
“It’s better, but ultimately the work falls on us,” said Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. “What it comes down to is we have until December to raise $31,000. We’re not a huge organization, but I think we can pull it off.”
Nakuset said the shelter is interviewing candidates for the job and expects someone to be in place by the end of June. She has met with Lareault and a Montreal police commander, who have assured her the city is working on a solution.
Two outreach workers told the Montreal Gazette that since December, 12 women who frequent the park have died because of issues related to their addiction. They say all, except for one, were Indigenous.
The Montreal Gazette was only able to confirm four of those deaths with the coroner’s office. All four were Indigenous.
Our women are dying. They don’t have access to services because they’ve been cut off from their land and access to housing in their own communities.”
“Our women are dying,” Nakuset said. “They don’t have access to services because they’ve been cut off from their land and access to housing in their own communities. When they come to the city, they get taken advantage of on the streets. They need basic resources and they’re not getting them.”
Just a block and a half east of the park, Nazareth House offers a more permanent solution to the area’s homeless. One project, called Anne’s House, helps women transition from the street into one of 30 apartments on the western edge of downtown.
Since 2015, more than 450 women have come forward to ask for one of those limited slots. Nazareth House director Sheila Woodhouse says she has seen a dramatic increase in youth aging out of the foster-care system and winding up on the streets.
But before they can make it into housing, many sleep on the streets, under the Ville-Marie Expressway and in the métro.
“People come to us wearing the clothes on their back and their life experience. They have nothing else,” Woodhouse said. “But getting into our housing takes time and without something like the Open Door, it makes it so much harder for people on the ground. We need a safe place. We need an Open Door in the neighbourhood.”