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‘Someone needs to step up’: Homeless crisis brewing in Montreal’s Cabot Square

It’s 9 a.m. in Cabot Square in downtown Montreal and a small group of women admit they aren’t sober.

It’s 9 a.m. in Cabot Square in downtown Montreal and a small group of women admit they aren’t sober.

“I used to be down and in a bad way, like struggling with alcohol and drugs, and right now I’m trying to go up,” said Kennie.

Normally, the women would have found a place to stay at the Open Door day shelter nearby. It was one of the few wet shelters in the city that accepted intoxicated people.

However, the shelter moved last year to Parc Avenue in the Plateau-Mont-Royal — and now some of the homeless people in the area say they have nowhere to go.

Many who stay in the park are Indigenous and advocates who work with them warn the situation is descending into chaos.

“These are people in crisis,” said Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter.

“Someone needs to step up and do something.”

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She says Indigenous people especially have an affinity for the Cabot Square are, saying it’s a gathering place for them.

Only about 30 per cent of the Open Door’s regular users followed to the Plateau. The rest chose to remain behind in Cabot Square.

Since the Open Door moved, the Chez Doris women’s shelter nearby on Chomedy Street has seen a big increase in demand for its services.

Workers have also noticed more issues in the area.

“Over the course of the summer, we saw a lot of dirty syringes. I saw in one case a private citizen playing homeless people to clean up a back alley,” said Marina Boulos-Winton, the executive-director of Chez Doris.

“I think it’s a crisis for people who are marginalized and who have addiction issues, and it’s a particular problem for the men because they have no resources.”

Nakuset is working with the cities of Montreal and Westmount on funding a new wet shelter in the area. She says people don’t want to leave Cabot Square.

“When they thought everyone would just leave and go to the new location, it was a huge surprise everyone stayed back, but we knew it was going to be this way,” Nakuset said.

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Westmount says it’s committed to helping. The municipality says it’s spending almost $20,000 on the funding of a social worker to help the homeless in the area.

Mayor Christina Smith says a short-term shelter needs to be opened immediately, but there is also the need for a long-term, permanent shelter in the area.

“Now that Open Door is gone, we are seeing more people in the streets. It’s a really difficult situation,” Smith said.

“It’s difficult for them, it’s hard for us to mange without a shelter for them to be supported. Clearly this part of Montreal needs some services — social services, health services, you name it, they need it.”

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For the homeless, meanwhile, help can’t come quickly enough.

Marc Bonhomme says people won’t travel across town to the new Open Door, because they can’t afford to.

“Nobody is going to that one up there,” Bonhomme said. “It’s too far, one. Two, if they jump the metro, they get caught, they get a ticket, and they can’t pay the ticket.”

He says while police are more present in the area, the homeless feel safe here. He worries, though, about what’s coming.

“They have to do something before the winter or they will find people dying out here,” Bonhomme said.