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Lachine residents demand solutions to homelessness, drug use

Article et photo de Montreal Gazette. Lire l'article en ligne

The borough says it is working to find "human solutions" for people living in precarious circumstances.

In a sector of Lachine where tightly packed homes border on an abandoned industrial zone, residents complain a rise in drug use and homelessness is robbing them of their sense of security.

Borough mayor Maja Vodanovic opened by saying homelessness and poverty have always existed and always will. The area around Notre-Dame St. and 6th Ave. has long experienced issues, but the fact so many turned out was a good sign, she said.

“In July you came here in large numbers to say it makes no sense that we have young people, young women, lying unconscious on the street, who don’t have a place to sleep. And you don’t know what to do for them. And we agree.” It takes a village, she said, to address problems this complex.

The region where Notre-Dame St. meets 6th Ave. has always been a bit rough, noted Karina, several months pregnant and sitting on her small front porch under a sign advising passersby they’re under camera surveillance. But in the last seven to eight months, problems with unhoused people congregating in front of her house, people smoking crack in public and fights by her front door at 4 a.m. prompting 911 calls have increased. People ring her doorbell selling food she suspects was stolen from local grocery stores.

A couple blocks east, pastry shop owner Marie-Ève Tessier said she collected 28 syringes in the lane behind her Notre-Dame St. business in three weeks. She’s asking the local health agency to supply one of those safe-syringe drop boxes one sees in hospitals. Business is down because people avoid the region, she said, and she closes her shop early because no one comes after dark.

Karina, who won’t give her family name for fear of reprisals, said police have done a good job patrolling the area.

“It was a lot worse at one time,” she said. “There used to be several prostitutes working around here. Now it’s just two or three. … But we need more police.”

On Tuesday night, nearly 100 residents and business owners filled the meeting room at Lachine’s town hall to air their fears and hear about solutions.

The borough organized an action committee to find “human solutions” for people living in precarious circumstances, bringing in members from the local police station, the regional health body CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de’Île-de-Montréal and the borough. Health officials told residents at the meeting teams of social workers and nurses were being sent in to meet with those in need. A “scouting network for psychological health” organized by the Quebec government will also provide aid workers, and Aire ouverte, which offers health care to youth, is also available. But they stressed help can only be provided to those willing to take it.

There were no social workers on the scene in Lachine for nearly a year due to a staffing shortage.

Sgt. Guillaume Beattie of local police station No. 8 said officers have been speaking to residents “and we know that businesses are closing early, we know families aren’t going out after dark because they’re afraid.”

The core group that causes problems with crime and theft comes down to roughly 15 to 20 people, he said.

“I want to tell you that these people are not dangerous,” he said. “They are not people that have been criminalized. They might suffer crises when they are taking drugs, they may scream out. And they might be scary for the majority of the population, but it’s not people who are ultra criminalized.”

Beattie announced the police force was starting full-time foot patrols in Lachine, which brought cheers from the crowd.

“We can never promise we will end the sale of drugs — it’s impossible and we would be lying to you,” station commander Vincent Clark said. “But we promise we will always work so that you feel safe in your neighbourhood.”

The pledge brought little solace to residents like Patricia Nouh, who said she has seen the same problems for years.

“I see in the mornings, at night, people intoxicated out of their heads always coming out of the same building. You know the drugs are coming out of those buildings. … My husband finds people sleeping in his construction vehicles all the time. He finds used condoms. I have small children of four years old and 13 months who see this all day. I called the police. Nothing happens.”

Nouh also got cheers.

Just east of the corner of Notre-Dame St. and 6th Ave. sits the abandoned grounds of what were once some of the largest industrial factories in Canada. But they shut in the 1980s, “and now it’s a no-man’s land of empty buildings and land, so of course, you know what that attracts,” Vodanovic said in an interview after the meeting.

Lachine has plans to transform the region into a mixed-use development including low-cost housing. It’s also trying to buy the rooming houses and bars identified as trouble spots. An 18-unit shelter to be run by the Old Brewery Mission is planned for late 2024. But these things take time, Vodanovic said. Till then, she called on residents to be patient, and to heed the words of Tania Charron, the director of the Ricochet shelter for young unhoused people in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

“Don’t forget to have empathy — it’s not easy to be sick and in the street, to be addicted. Don’t forget to be caring.”

After the meeting, residents spoke with health-care workers to discuss possible solutions.

At the corner of Notre-Dame St. and 7th Ave., young people congregated by the side of the dépanneur to smoke drugs and be together, illuminated by the security lights.


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