Montreal tent city residents reluctant to leave, even after new shelter beds created

Montreal's mayor is encouraging people living in a tent city to use new shelters for the winter – but many of them say they don't want to leave.

The tent city on Notre-Dame St. E has grown from a dozen tents when it first appeared in August to now over 100.

Tent city resident Cedric Charette, like others, said many are here after losing their jobs in the pandemic.

"I come from a good family," he said. He'd had "problems with work related to COVID-19," he added, "and rent and things like that are so expensive, and we need to have help."

People frequently drop off clothes, food and generators, and others pitch in to help.

"The cold is coming in faster than we thought," said Carmen Anoia of restaurant Kitchen 73.

"So we decided to come out and feed them and clothe them. We have tons of clothes and jackets we're giving to them."

Governments at all levels are increasing funding to add hundreds of beds, and the city is renting out a downtown hotel at Place Dupuis to help shelter the homeless population.

The opposition at city hall is calling it a good start, but said it's short-sighted.

"At least make a 12-month plan, the first thing," said Pierrefonds-Roxboro councillor Benoit Langevin of Ensemble Montreal.

"And then after that, work on a plan -- and they should already be working on a plan now -- for after the 31st of March. Because all the investment that was announced yesterday will be closed on the 31st."

The Port of Montreal has agreed to allow a warming station near the tent city. While Mayor Valerie Plante said she doesn't want to force anyone to leave the camp, officials will intervene if anyone's health is in jeopardy.

Many living in the tent city say they don't plan to go to any of the offered overnight accommodations.

"I like it better to be here. A lot of people don't want to move out from here – a lot," said tent city resident Guylain Levasseur.

Levasseur said he'd prefer to be offered subsidized housing so he can live on his own, something Plante has been pushing for.

But those who work in the shelter system say that kind of housing is also not for everyone.

"We can't just open up an apartment building and put everybody in, that's not going to solve the problem, because people have to want to go. So we have to meet their needs and expectations," said Sam Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission.

The province said discussions are ongoing for more permanent housing solutions. 

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