“They’re there, and we’re here… two different worlds. But we’re neighbours now and we’ll learn how to get along.”
CITY OPENS HOMELESS CENTRE NEAR LUXURY CONDO DEVELOPMENT
Rich or poor, people have to learn to co-habit
David Chapman looks over the main area of Resilience Montreal homeless centre. It’s a cold February morning outside but inside it is warm and there’s the smell of hot food in the air with people talking in a mixture of English, French and Inuktitut.
Through a window, just across from nearby Cabot Square, the gleaming towers of a nearly-finished luxury condo complex can be seen. Chapman points to it. “They’re there, and we’re here… two different worlds. But we’re neighbours now and we’ll learn how to get along.”
Chapman is Resilience’s director. A couple of years earlier he was the director of another centre nearby, the Open Door, that was forced to relocate. He grins wryly. “We weren’t wanted… co-habitation wasn’t in the books. Residents in the neighbourhood thought the homeless who hung around the square were there because of the (Open Door) centre. Move the centre and everyone will move with it.”
It did not work. Too late it was realized that Cabot Square — especially for Indigenous population of the area — gives people a sense of belonging. It is where they come to find friends and family. The Open Door was an integral part of life in the area; people could get something to eat and escape the street for a while. It was the neighbourhood’s moral compass and once it was gone, the situation degraded. Crack and heroin use rose and people died, most of them Indigenous.
But to go from admitting there is a problem to doing something about it usually takes years. This time, however, thanks to an outcry from local organizations and the media, the City reacted with speed. “Once the City finally woke up to the fact there was a serious problem, they found the money to resolve it.” Chapman looks thoughtfully at the towers of the multi-million-dollar condo complex. “Condo developers have all of the power, but here (at the centre) a little bit of the power has come back to the people. The City is sending a message that rich or poor we have to learn to co-habit. We have to get along.”
Chapman is happy. 2020 is shaping up to be quite a year. A political statement has been made and there is no going back: Resilience Montreal is here to stay!
By James Galwey
Credit: James Galwey