Number of homeless Montrealers doubled in pandemic; Plante floats new approach on campaign trail

On any given night, about 4,000 Montrealers are homeless.

That’s much more than prior to the pandemic—about twice as many, by some estimates.

Mayoral candidate Valerie Plante says that she’ll now double the budget for services for the homeless, bringing it from $3 million to $6 million annually.

It’s the latest platform point unveiled by the current mayor, who knows well the seriousness of homeless in Montreal in the last few years after her administration contended with a ballooning homeless population, emergency COVID-19 shelters for them, and the tent city that emerged both of the last summers in Hochelaga.

"One way to make this work is ending this kind of ‘coming only for a sleep and in the morning we empty the centre’” type of service, she said.

“There has to be a 24/7 approach.”

If re-elected, she says, her administration will try to switch the model by investing in round-the-clock services, and making a point of offering them year-round and not only in the downtown area.

She’s also calling on the province to create a five-year plan for tackling homelessness in Montreal, saying there needs to be a better partnership.

Community groups like the Old Brewery Mission say they’ve been asking for something like that.

“We need more investments in emergency services, but also the kinds of services we can offer during the day,” said James Hughes of that shelter.

“Counseling, housing advice to help people on the way out… and, needless to say, housing itself,” he said.

“They need to go somewhere and we are in a housing crisis.”

That’s something the three mayoral candidates have been battling over more consistently. Plante says she plans to build 300 new social housing units per year for the next four years, if re-elected.

That’s a drop in the bucket, says Mouvement Montreal leader Balarama Holness.

“There are 24,000 people waiting for social housing, so the math simply does not add up,” he said.

He’s instead pitching the idea that his administration would push for broader powers so it can build social housing without having to wait for the province to act, and to set aside particular land.

“Our goal was to actually increase the funding that we can actually put into social and affordable housing,” he said.

“The other element was to get the Peel Basin reserved for social housing.”

Meanwhile, Ensemble Montreal’s Denis Coderre slammed Plante for not boosting homelessness funding in the city’s last budget.

He hasn’t yet presented a plan for social housing or homelessness, but said it was coming this Friday.

Plante and Coderre have, in fact, presented their competing plans for housing overall. Coderre promises 50,000 new units over four years, with 15 per cent of new construction with over 25 units reserved for social and community housing, while Plante promises 60,000 affordable units over 10 years.

Coderre hasn’t yet spoken about social housing in particular.

There’s a lot of urgency around the issue, because of the weather, if nothing else, said Hughes.

"The election is in a month,” he said. “Whoever comes in will have to act quickly on this file because it's going to get colder. The numbers will go up. They're already high, but they will go up even further.”

He said overall, however, seeing new ideas being debated is encouraging, since the past few years have proven the status quo is not working.

“The fact that the debate is on about what to do about homelessness come election time is a really good, important thing,” he said.

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