“This wasn’t a public health official; it was a private citizen offering homeless people money to get rid of needles strewn across the ground,” said Boulos-Winton, who runs the Chez Doris women’s day centre.
The Open Door served hundr of meals a day and provided a space for people to sleep, do their laundry, see a nurse or get into a detox program.
With fewer resources on the ground, shelters like Chez Doris are being pushed to the brink.
“We’re not necessarily seeing more clients but they’re coming more often,” Boulos-Winton said. “They’re living from hand to mouth, they’re in bad shape. … We’re hearing about people using intravenous drugs in the Alexis Nihon (mall); we’re hearing about needles being left on the ground. It’s not safe.”
The depth of the Cabot Square crisis came to light last spring, when street workers told the Montreal Gazette that a dozen homeless people who frequented the park died in a six month span. The Montreal Gazette was able to confirm four of those deaths with the Quebec coroner’s office. All of the victims were Indigenous.
Two homeless people who spoke to the Montreal Gazette on Tuesday said the absence of a shelter in the area has made their lives more dangerous. Security at the Atwater métro reported a surge in complaints last spring associated with fights and drinking in the station while police said they had to beef up their presence in the park.
Mayor Valérie Plante met with Quebec’s minister of Health and Social Services in June to ask for emergency funding to deal with the problem. Three intervention workers were hired last month to patrol the park and try to connect homeless people to services in the area.
On Monday, Plante went to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal to work on a long term solution to the Cabot Square situation. Sources say the city will soon announce funding for a new shelter on Atwater Ave. that would be run by workers from the Native Women’s Shelter, Benedict Labre House and Nazareth House.
“We’re hopeful, I like the mayor’s approach and I think we’ll get this done,” said Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter. “We need action. Too many Indigenous people, and women in particular, are vulnerable near Cabot Square.
“They’re resilient people; they’re brave people; they’ve made it through things you could never imagine.
“We need a permanent solution, one that gives them a fighting chance. There’s a cost to that, but what’s the cost of doing nothing?”