There are 3,016 homeless in Montreal according to the results of the I Count MTL 2015 census of the city’s homeless population released Tuesday morning. The results were presented by Eric Latimer of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. The census took place on the evening of March 24 when a team of nearly 700 volunteers fanned out across the city to try to get an accurate picture of how many are homeless in Montreal. The 3,016 doesn’t count those who are dealing with hidden homelessness, such as those who are temporarily living with friends or family or in short-term accommodation.
So what can we do about this?
1. Create a village. Dignity Village is a membership-based community in NE Portland, providing shelter off the streets for 60 people a night since 2001. It’s democratically self-governed with a mission to provide transitional housing that fosters community and self-empowerment– a radical experiment to end homelessness.
2. Provide them with a home first because most homeless people have to go through the medical system for depression or drug addiction before they can be housed.’Housing First’ is a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centers on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed. It is an approach first popularized by Sam Tsemberis and Pathways to Housing in New York in the 1990s, though there were Housing First-like programs emerging elsewhere, including Canada (HouseLink in Toronto) prior to this time. The basic underlying principle of Housing First is that people are better able to move forward with their lives if they are first housed. This is as true for people experiencing homelessness and those with mental health and addictions issues as it is for anyone. Housing is provided first and then supports are provided including physical and mental health, education, employment, substance abuse and community connections.
3. Give them more government money because $600 a month is not enough. And when Mayor Denis Coderre spends 40 million dollars to light up the Jacques Cartier Bridge, I just want to scream. Seriously. Imagine the impact that money could have had on our homeless. Be cognizant of this when you vote tomorrow.
4. Finally, some advice I received from Anthony Robbins many years ago, When you encounter a homeless person on the street, don’t just through a loonie into their cup. Instead, stop and talk to them. Look them in the eye and show empathy. Offer to do something for them, whether its a simple coffee, a meal or something more. I once gave a homeless man my winter coat and the look in his eyes was as if I had given him a million dollars. Remember, the vast majority of homeless people suffer from mental illness. It’s not their fault and they certainly don’t want to be in that position. People often say, “ what if the money you give them is used for drugs or alcohol?” The answer is simple. It’s not for me to judge. When you give, it is out of the goodness of your heart and not for any other reason.
There are several homeless centres in Montreal including The Old Brewery Mission and The Welcome Hall Mission. But they exist only of the homeless person decides to take advantage of what they have to offer. Some will and some will not. As the weather gets colder, it becomes more challenging for those who live on the street. According to Aubin Boudreau, who works for the Accueil Bonneau Mission in Montreal, you should stop handing out blankets and sleeping bags to the homeless people of Montreal. Instead, you should encourage them to visit a shelter where they’ll be out of the cold and can receive help from the services that are available to them.
Perhaps easier said than done.
There is no magic answer, however, I think the best answer is in helping the homeless is one step at a time. The next time you see someone on the street, don’t walk by. Stop and talk to them, look them in the eyes, and ask how you can help.