Hochelaga Encampment Evictions
On Monday May 3, the SPVM evicted an encampment in Boisé Steinberg in the Hochelaga neighborhood. This encampment was composed of about 20 people whose setup had been deemed safe by the Montreal Fire Department. Despite this, the Quebec Transport Ministry served the campers an eviction notice, citing safety concerns of the “illegal occupation”. The City of Montreal and SPVM carried out the eviction, and city councillor Nathalie Goulet, an executive committee member responsible for homelessness, stated that the City does not tolerate encampments. Goulet pointed out that the City of Montreal and its partners provided support for the evicted campers, and that there are ample beds available in shelters to accommodate them. The long term solution, Goulet said, is social housing and not campgrounds.
While shelters and the City agree that social housing is the answer, the City of Montreal does not appear to understand the reasons people choose not to sleep in shelters. The reality of the situation is that people who do not have housing often prefer to sleep outside rather than sleep in a shelter bed during the pandemic because of the outbreaks that occur in these spaces. Shelters also have many rules that must be followed and early check-out times that may not appeal to people. Because of this, people choose to sleep in tents and form small encampments, which also offer them a consistent and stable living location compared to staying a night at a shelter. Encampments are also a way of community building and can create a support network among unhoused people. While shelters are a temporary solution with the long-term goal of social housing, progress in social housing is slow and people are seeking alternatives to shelters, hence, the reason why more and more encampments have popped up throughout the pandemic. Instead of removing these encampments on false grounds of fire safety, the City should be creating better options than shelter beds if it does not want to have encampments. More funding must be put into social housing and while more social housing is being built, options such as transition housing, medium- and long-term shelter spaces, and support services must be offered. Until people have better options than sleeping or camping outdoors, it should be unsurprising that people form camps such as the ones in Hochelaga instead of searching for a bed at a shelter each night. Evictions such as the one on May 3 do not change the availability of social housing units. Evictions do not offer additional services. Evictions simply remove people from land, which in this instance was a vacant lot.