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Number of people experiencing homeless in Montreal much higher than surveys show: advocates

Article from Global News

A homeless man is shown in Montreal, Sunday, September 12, 2021. An increase in homelessness, coupled with the opioid crisis, has led to an increased need for services to support the most vulnerable. But residents in a number of neighbourhoods have serious concerns about such services in their area, and how they are being established. Experts say finding a solution for peaceful cohabitation is key. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press


Advocates say that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Montreal is much higher than surveys show.

They say surveys, also known as homelessness count, only represent a snapshot of what the situation is and they’re sounding the alarm.

Groups are calling for the government to stop conducting the surveys and start investing in resources.


“I don’t think it’s super useful when it comes to deciding where the money should go, where we should invest, what services do we need to implement and develop,” said Tania Charron, the executive director of Action Jeunesse de l’Ouest-de-l’Île (AJOI) and founding member of Ricochet, a shelter located in the West Island.


The call took place during the launch of the 2nd edition of the magazine “Homelessness in Montreal: Beyond the Numbers”.


It was put together in collaboration with 38 people from the homeless community and brought together more than 30 organizations and groups coordinated by the Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), an organization representing more than 100 community organizations who work with those experiencing homelessness.


The groups have found that the surveys cost millions of dollars but they don’t document homelessness correctly.


Groups say homelessness is impossible to quantify because it exists in several forms, such as couch surfing and it’s not always visible.


They say the surveys don’t help because the numbers reported are not accurate which in turn leads to policies that won’t work and funnel funds in the wrong resources.


“This inaccurate figure is then repeated for months by the media and decision-makers, when we should instead listen to experts in the field to get a true picture of what is happening and what communities need: these experts are the community organizations and the people concerned,” said Annie Savage, head of RAPSIM.


For example, Charron says the latest homelessness count showed that there were only three people experiencing homelessness in the West Island.

But she says 80 per cent of Ricochet’s clientele is from the West Island.


“The reality is that at Ricochet we welcome 35 people each night, that we refuse between five and 10 people by night. Last night, we welcomed 403 different persons in our services for night stay, our services were used more than 11,000 times (last year). So these are the real numbers,” Charron explained.


The count was first conducted in 2018. The Quebec government’s ministry of health and social services, as well as the city of Montreal and the local health authority, the CIUSSS-du-Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal worked together on the city-wide operation.


The CIUSSS referred Global News to the ministry for comment.


A spokesperson for Lionel Carmant, the minister of health and social services, told Global News that the homelessness count was a demand from several municipalities.


“A more frequent count was an important request from municipalities and we agree that it is important to quantify the phenomenon in order to first measure it and also in order to evaluate our actions regarding homelessness,” wrote Lambert Drainville in a text to Global News. “We are well aware that this is a count that only calculates people experiencing visible homelessness, but we still believe that such an exercise has great value.”


The city of Montreal agrees it’s an important tool that allows them to have a good picture of the evolution of the situation.


“However, we are aware that this is the portrait of a single evening and that it only represents the tip of the iceberg of the extent of the needs of people experiencing homelessness. We agree with community groups that it is crucial to put in place deep and permanent solutions to address the various crises that make our populations vulnerable, such as the housing crisis, overdoses and mental health. We have clearly expressed our requests to higher levels in this regard and we offer our full collaboration to help implement these solutions,” the city told Global News.


The next count is planned for 2024.

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