Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Inuit homelessness in ; Montreal: have we looked away?

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An Inuk is sitting on the roadway of Avenue du Parc, after having begged a little money from motorists stopped at a red light.< /p>

  • Yanik Dumont Baron (View profile)Yanik Dumont Baron

It has been almost two years since the Montreal Ombudsman denounced the “humanitarian crisis” plaguing the Milton-Parc sector of downtown. Nadine Mailloux called for “not to look away” from the dozens of homeless Inuit who survive, often intoxicated, in this neighborhood. Was she heard?

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">It's snowing in Montreal. The wet snow soaks the shoes and pants of those with poor footwear. Winter disrupts the habits of homeless people in Milton-Parc… but it does not make them disappear.

This afternoon, two young women are patrolling the streets and alleys of this area near Mount Royal. They are psychosocial workers, sent here by the City of Montreal.

Often, explains Lehia, we will come across people in the entrances of businesses, who are 'house elements. We'll go to the alleys, too, to make sure there's no one hiding in a corner, maybe overdosing.

The tandem is part of the Mobile Mediation and Social Intervention Team (EMMIS), which patrols the central neighborhoods of Montreal. It was in response to the Ombudsman's heartfelt cry that the authorities mandated a team in the sector.

Do you have everything you need? Lehia asks an elderly woman, sitting alone on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall of a grocery store. Protected by a blanket, she asks for nothing, except cigarettes. She seems to be just waiting for the passage of time.

Lehia and her partner greet her and continue their patrol.

< p class="Text-sc-2357a233-1 imohSo">We try to interact with people. If we don't interact with them, we can't know what their needs are.

A quote from Lehia, EMMIS speaker

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Psychosocial worker Lehia is part of the Mobile Mediation and Social Intervention Team set up by the City of Montreal.

The two speakers go up an alley. Near a container, a lot of food waste on the ground: water bottles, leftover food, a pizza box. Someone ate here.

A little further away, near the cars parked by the residents of the buildings, other remains of food, clothes dirty. We are far from the Montreal of postcards.

Lehia talks about the less attractive behind the scenes of the city, [places] that are indeed real. And for the people I work with on a daily basis, it’s their living environment. Survival.

The woman stretches her neck as she walks, taking detours to check that there is no one in the corners of buildings or in the discreet emergency exits. We sometimes find very intoxicated homeless people there, people who have to be woken up to make sure they are not in danger.

The team often comes across Inuit strolling and begging near restaurants and businesses on Avenue du Parc. Often the only places to sit and shelter.

We will do mediation, explains Lehia, try to find a compromise between the merchant and the person who occupies the space. Cohabitation, not coercion.

EMMIS patrols aim to replace police officers in less dangerous situations, where social workers are better equipped to act as mediators between residents, merchants and the homeless.

The speaker admits that sometimes you have to be creative to convince a homeless person to move away from a business. However, EMMIS interventions are not binding. In the event of refusal, it will be up to the merchant to contact the police.

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A homeless shelter is located in the basement -floor of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette church, on avenue du Parc, in Montreal.

At the heart of this neighborhood, there is a shelter well appreciated by itinerant Inuit. A warm place to spend the night. This is the Open Door, located in the basement of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette church.

To get there , you have to go through the main door and go down two flights of stairs. Avoid paying attention to the smells that float in the air, to the strange atmosphere that reigns there.

What was likely a community hall was divided with white plastic sheeting. A thin wall that offers little privacy between the dozens of camp beds.

You hear everyone snoring, coughing, farting, Lehia admits. This is the best we can offer. When it’s that or sleeping outside in the street, in the cold, we tell ourselves that it’s not so bad. […] They have a high threshold of tolerance. Many behaviors that can be considered problematic will be tolerated here.

The Open Door sometimes accommodates people who are prohibited from entering certain shelters. the city. Very practical, especially in winter, recognizes Lehia. It’s a resource that helps me a lot.

The shelter, however, is seen as a source of problems by many nearby residents. The place would act as a magnet for people experiencing homelessness, without offering them real means of leaving the streets.

The Milton-Parc Residents' Collective is calling for the closure of this shelter installed in a stifling, windowless, unsanitary basement. Their spokesperson, Martine Michaud, says she wants better for the homeless, but not right in a family neighborhood.

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Several homeless people are sitting on the steps of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette church.

A report by Yanik Dumont Baron on this subject will be presented at the &x27; showEverythingterrain, broadcast on ICI Premiere on Sunday at 10 am.< /strong>

Traders also have their grievances, but few agree to discuss them openly. Martine Michaud therefore carries their voices. Let's be clear about this: Things aren't going well for them, she says.

There were some pretty catastrophic situations, she emphasizes. People in a state of crisis entering cafes, stealing food, tips, intimidating customers who want to enter the cafe.

Some of the traders , surveyed by the Milton-Parc Residents' Collective, estimate that their income has fallen by half since the Open Door shelter opened its doors in 2018.

These complaints are not new. The Ombudsman talked about it in his spring 2022 report. But since then, little seems to have changed, according to those who frequent the neighborhood.

Ms. Michaud recognizes that the Ombudsman's report had the merit of shaking up decision-makers. Their speech evokes the urgency to act, the particular distress of the Inuit.

We need to walk the walk [in the City]. The solutions are not the residents who have them.

A quote from Martine Michaud, spokesperson for the Milton-Parc Residents' Collective

In their eyes, nothing moves fast enough, and some are close to bankruptcy.

The Montreal Ombudsman has noted real efforts in terms of consultation, but there remains a lot of work to be done in terms of accommodation and prevention.

The opening of a permanent shelter for indigenous homeless people is planned, but not before the end of 2027, five years after what the Ombudsman wants. Until then, the shelter could remain open.

An intergovernmental committee (which brings together the City, the province and the federal government) was also set up in the hope of better coordinating the actions of all stakeholders.

Other initiatives should be announced shortly. This reflects the position often repeated by municipal officials: Montreal cannot resolve these complex problems alone; it needs greater involvement from Quebec and Ottawa.

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Simiuni Nauya, Inuk, speaker for the Comm'un organization, which works in the Milton-Parc sector.< /p>

It’s not just the EMMIS that patrols Milton-Parc. The Comm'un organization was formed after the report was submitted, specifically with the aim of listening to the homeless, the first to be affected by the situation.

The cold is biting in the evening as we follow Simiuni Nauya down Avenue du Parc. He is Inuk, formerly itinerant, well placed to understand the reality of the sector he also frequented.

His face is known among the people we meet, often sitting on the ground despite the cold. They are smiling, he notices. They share a beer and beg together.

He doesn't worry about those, whom he guesses are staying at the Open Door, a few meters higher, but it sucks for those who don't have a bed in the middle of winter.

We pass near the place where an Inuk was found frozen to death in a chemical toilet three years ago. Simiuni Nauya claims to have known Raphäel André, as he has known others lost to overdoses or illnesses.

He speaks of the need to focus on the traumas that still haunt the Inuit of Milton-Parc. Scars left by the violence and abuse suffered in the North and here.

Alcohol and drugs can mask these injuries. Temporarily, reminds the speaker. It's not easy to go through all of this. The only way to numb the pain is to drink beer and drugs.

A few flakes fall from a black sky. It’s cold, which doesn’t take away the smiles from three Inuit sitting on the steps of a closed restaurant. They are buzzed on weed, notes Simiuni. Maybe they will fall asleep soon.

He offers them cigarettes, exchanges a few jokes before leaving, with a heavy heart.

I would like to help them. I can maybe help one person at a time, but it's a lot of work.

A quote from Simiuni Nauya, Comm'un speaker

There are indeed many who need help.

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