Coderre fires back with homelessness plan, including supportive housing, more street social workers

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Montreal mayoral candidate Denis Coderre, accusing the current administration of “constantly acting in a [state of] emergency” when it comes to homelessness, says he’s come up with a better approach, including significantly more cash.

He pitched the idea, saying it “will leave nothing to chance," on Friday in the most recent round of campaign promises.

Incumbent Valerie Plante unveiled her own strategy around homelessness earlier this week, promising to double the budget—since the number of homeless Montrealers has doubled in the pandemic—and to create a more round-the-clock, city-wide system, rather than focusing on day shelters in the downtown area.

Coderre’s strategy would also increase the budget but take a slightly different focus, shifting the type of services rather than where and when they’re provided, according to a press release from Ensemble Montreal, his party, on Friday.

The party would double the number of “patrollers,” who are more like social workers than police officers, working with the Psychosocial Emergency Support Team and the Mobile Reference and Roaming Intervention Team of Montreal police, said the release.

“This improvement in their activities, valued at $10 million, will ensure harmonious cohabitation while addressing the criminalization of the homeless,” the release said.

Another $10 million will also go to downtown developers and community organizations to “help them address urban health and safety issues,” the party said.

So-called “wet shelters,” which don’t turn people away if they’re under the influence, will be “enhanced,” said the release, and Ottawa and Montreal will work together to create pilot projects to fight the opioid crisis.

The release provided no further details about the opioid idea.

Coderre is also proposing a significantly bigger budget hike than Plante, adding up to $9 million per year instead of the $6 million she promised. The current budget for homelessness is $3 million per year.

James Hughes, the director of the Old Brewery Mission, said he's happy to see both Coderre and Plante "making homelessness and housing a priority."

About Coderre's plan, "We are also pleased to know that he is proposing to dedicate $36 million" to the budget, Hughes said in a statement.

What is needed is more permanent housing, as well as 24/7 emergency services and geographically targeted help for certain populations, he said. 

HOUSING WITH BUILT-IN SERVICES

In terms of transition housing, another major component of both candidates' plans, it appears hard to do a direct comparison as they’re talking about slightly different types of housing.

Plante promises 1,200 newly built social housing units over four years. That term usually refers to housing where rent is set according to income, rather than to services provided there, though earlier this week the Plante campaign said it was intended as transitional housing for the homeless.

A spokesperson for Plante's campaign hasn't yet responded to a request for more details on that proposal.

Coderre is looking at housing with special built-in social services.

He is “committed to building 1,800 permanent housing units with psychosocial support services over the next four years,” the release said.

Of those, a third of the units will be reserved for women and another third will be reserved for First Nations people and Inuit, the party wrote.

Until the buildings are ready, Ensemble Montreal promises to support existing housing referral services and to bolster emergency, drop-in shelters to ensure they’re open around the clock.

“With Milton-Parc and the makeshift [tent city] camps, we have seen that the City of Montreal has a role to play in urban health to maintain the social fabric,” Christine Black, mayor of Montreal-Nord and Ensemble Montreal candidate, was quoted as saying.

Hughes said that the real solution to the uptick in homelessness is more permanent housing. "Adding 1,800 permanent housing units dedicated to housing homeless people, as Mr. Coderre suggests, is a positive step," he said.

Emergency services must be open 24/7 and "must be designed to meet the specific needs of at-risk populations, such as the Aboriginal community, and to foster integration into the city's neighbourhoods where the needs are located."

CHANGING FUNDING ARRANGEMENTS

Other funding changes would be in store under an Ensemble Montreal government.

For one, it would renegotiate a provincial-municipal agreement called Reflex Montreal, which transfers money from the provincial budget to be managed by the city in its housing efforts.

It would also change the way organizations are funded by giving them three-year agreements, rather than one-year, to “give them all the agility and stability” they need, the release said.

Coderre also brought back a project he first introduced in 2015, during his tenure as mayor: a summit between the city, other levels of government, the private sector and community organizations in order to tackle homelessness.

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