Advocates renew calls for City of Montreal to let homeless use vacant lot as shelter space

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By Luca Caruso-Moro, CTV News Montreal

MONTREAL -- Advocates are calling on the City of Montreal to take action after raising concerns earlier this week about a controversial fence on a vacant lot on Park Avenue.

It’s not just any lot — it’s a gathering place for people living on the street and the people who use it say they feel shut out of the place they’ve long called home.

Passersby may not notice anything special about the vacant lot, but people like Tommy Partriege relied on this place because he has nowhere else to live.

“Six years ago there was nobody around. Me and my brother created this and now, everyone is like family together,” he said.

That family has grown to more than a dozen people. He said the street has provided them not just a home, but also protection when there's nowhere else to go.

“If we were somewhere else, maybe most of them — lots of them — would be dead by now, but they’re still alive because we’re here,” Partriege said.

However, this week, they were shut out. A fence was put up around the perimeter of the privately-owned lot, leaving many sitting on the curb or on people’s front steps looking for somewhere else to go.

“People are sitting on the sidewalk. Passersby have to go into the street to get around them. People are sitting more in the doorways of businesses,” said John Tessier, coordinator of The Open Door mission.

He said a resident was killed last year after a smaller fence was put up. Kitty Kakkinerk was blocked by the fence and ran into the road, apparently trying to flee an abuser. She was struck by a car and died.

“The money that has been spent on ambulances and police alone, you put it all together and a nice centre could have been built already,” said Plateau resident Andree Deveault.

Tessier said the people who rely on the lot need a “safe and dignified” place to live. He said the city is considering buying another lot across the street to help out.

When contacted by CTV News, however, the city only said it is considering a number of options.

“Several aspects must be taken into consideration to arrive at a solution that meets the needs of both vulnerable people and residents of the neighbourhood,” wrote city spokesperson Hugo Bourgoin in a statement.

For now, social workers and police will patrol the area and shelter capacities have increased.

In the meantime, people at the Park Avenue lot say they’re staying put as they wait — and hope — for change.