City census indicates upwards of 4,000 remain homeless

By P.A. Sévigny

Although the results of the census indicate that there are far less than the estimated 10,000 homeless presently living on the streets of the city, hard numbers also indicate that there are still over 4,000 people who call those streets ‘home.’ During last week’s Tuesday morning press conference, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre joined Douglas Institute research director Eric Latimer and Movement pour Mettre-Fin à l’Itinérance à Montréal (MMFIM) president James McGregor to announce and discuss the significance of the results of a census that was carried out when over 800 volunteers hit the streets over a single weekend at the end of last March.

“Counting up the numbers of homeless people in our city was an important part of our action plan to do something about the poverty that defines much of what it means to be homeless in this city,” said Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre. “Thanks to the research done by the Douglas Institute, we now have the data that we need in order to better understand what it means to be homeless in Montreal and what we can do about it.”

As the result of a promise that was made during the last municipal election campaign, the mayor told the media that the census was the first of its kind to be carried out in any city and that it was only “a first step” towards solving the problems caused by extreme urban poverty.

Its methodology was simple. Special efforts were made to reach out to the homeless in various shelters, soup kitchens, day centers and libraries where many like to spend their day. Others were found in various city hospitals, assorted detox (detoxification) centres or in jail where they were killing time waiting for their trial.

The census indicates that more than 3,000 of the city’s chronic homeless (for one reason or another) end up spending their nights on the street, while hundreds of others make up the hidden homeless who spend the night in various rooming houses or surfing the couch at a friend’s place. Their numbers only add up to a few hundred people at any time, ;though census analysts acknowledge that those numbers are not precise because there could be hundreds—if not thousands—of people who have made their own arrangements in order to find a bed and the minimal bit of food and shelter that they need to face another day on the street.

Though women comprise nearly a quarter of the number of the city’s homeless population, less than ten per cent of them spend their nights on the street. The rest managed to find a bed in any one of the city’s assorted women’s shelters.

Recent immigrants make up at least ten per cent of the city’s women who have no place to spend the night. These women are often accompanied by their children. This reflects a more serious problem among the city’s new immigrants within their own communities.

Amerindians also make up more ten per cent of the city’s homeless, even though they account for less than one per cent of the city’s population. The findings also indicate that, of them, Inuit comprise more than 40 per cent of native Canadians who spend their nights on Montreal streets.

While the numbers that make up the city’s census reveal a lot about where and what the city can do to pursue its fight against street poverty, at least one number revealed how the Department of National Defense (DND)—still fails to care for a significant number of its veterans who are barely able to cope after post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has effectively destroyed their lives: Six percent of the city’s homeless are former members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Much to the mayor’s dismay, Montreal is keeping pace with Toronto, where more than seven per cent of its homeless are also veterans. Note that former members of Canada’s Armed Forces make up less than two per cent of Canada’s population.

According to Mayor Coderre, the next step for what he described as the city’s plan to deal with its homeless population (Plan D’Action Montréalais en Itinérance) will be to nominate an ombudsman who will be expected to speak out and make recommendations to help solve at least some of the problems that can define the life of the three to four thousand people who live on the streets of Montreal.

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