Montreal tent city dwellers say they want to camp through winter, despite all offers of help

Twenty-two-year-old Brandon Le Blanc has been living in Montreal’s “tent city” since August, and he says he likes it there—in fact, he plans to stay all winter.

“I choose to be here,” he said. “We’re comfortable here. Some people like living in tents.”

The community of tent-dwellers off Notre-Dame St., which ballooned around early August, is now steady at around 100 people.

The city has been trying hard to get them to leave, but to do so voluntarily, and in a move that has surprised many Montrealers, not many have agreed, even as winter arrives.

“It’s getting cold out there,” said Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.

“I understand that they're attached to certain things, whether it's personal belongings or just this kind of sense of freedom, but ultimately we all have a responsibility.”

She said Tuesday she worries some will freeze to death or get injured using an unsafe heater. She says she wants the tent camp emptied, but says she isn’t planning to forcibly kick them out—the city’s approach right now is to continually offer services.

“We’re doing our part,” she said, “but they have to do theirs by coming to some of the shelters we’ve created for them.”

The camp-dwellers’ logic has gotten clearer, in a way, as they’ve gotten more and more options—and turned them down. 

For months, the city has sent a stream of police and social workers to explain what’s on offer. 

The city promised to store the campers’ belongings and put them up in an east-end YMCA, near the camp, or go stay in a downtown hotel that’s been converted into a homeless shelter, but where services will feel reminiscent of a hotel stay.

Most people said no dice. Only about 15 people took the city up on that plan.

One man said he already has an apartment but has stayed at the tent city since “day one” to make a point.

“These people they just want an apartment, but at a low rate,” he said.

“Who’s gonna pay [for] an apartment with a $700 cheque of welfare, and the apartment is 750? How do you want them to get an apartment? It’s impossible.”

A resident also said that the shelter system leaves a lot to be desired—it’s not the same as having a home.

“At eight in the morning they kick you out,” he said. “You gotta go back at eight at night. What are you gonna do in that time—you're gonna squat in Emilie Gamelin park?”

Montreal’s commissioner for the homeless, Serge Lareault, agreed with Plante that the city will keep a very close eye on the camp, and said things can’t continue like this.

“We need them to be secure,” he said. “They can't stay outside all winter. It's…too cold.”

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