The Federal Housing Advocate visited Montreal and Saint-Jérôme from February 20 to 24, 2023, to learn more about the housing and homelessness situation, including encampments in both communities.
The Advocate met with people experiencing homelessness, including people living in encampments, outreach workers, housing rights advocates and shelter providers. She also met with residents who are living in the encampment under the Ville-Marie expressway.
On February 23, the Advocate publicly launched a national review on homeless encampments in Canada during a reception and art exhibition, which followed a workshop entitled Habiter la rue : repenser notre réponse à l’itinérance at the Archives nationales du Québec à Montréal.
What we heard
During her meetings in Quebec, the Advocate heard about the urgent need for more investments in social housing and to enhance protections for tenants. Advocates and shelter providers spoke about an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time, a growing demand for homelessness services and the challenge of ensuring that psycho-social supports were in place to ensure people experiencing trauma, mental health and addiction issues were successful in getting off the streets when housing was found.
She also heard frustration from some people about the lack of meaningful progress in addressing the housing crisis for Indigenous peoples. There is an urgent need for significant steps to be taken to implement the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec (Viens Commission).
In Montreal, she also heard about the fear and insecurity encampment residents experience when they are under constant threat that their homes will be dismantled and their belongings damaged or lost. While encampments cannot be seen as a solution to homelessness, the Advocate heard about how they can offer people living in them an important sense of community, can reduce the risk of being isolated and can help outreach workers provide access to important services, including health and food.
The Advocate heard that much of the burden for responding to the human cost of this crisis is falling on community organizations. While these organizations remain committed and have tremendous experience, they are over-worked and under-resourced. In Quebec, as elsewhere, it seems the system is fractured. Governments are reacting to the crisis, but there is no broad vision or a clear strategy to address the housing emergency.
There is a need for a paradigm shift that puts people first. A system that upholds human dignity. A system that builds community solidarity and puts human rights first.