Cabot Square: Ville-Marie’s Tragic Backyard
Source : cultmtl.com
A spread of used joints, trash bags, and the scent of marijuana are mere banalities at Cabot Square in Montreal. The urban square, known as a gathering area for homeless people who spend their time in the park or at local shelters, is recognized as a hotspot for native homeless people, disease, and death.
At Cabot, especially during the winter, there have been numerous instances of people freezing in the cold or not being cared for while ill. Resources are running out and the situation is likely to worsen if nothing is done to change it.
Amanda, 23, is a homeless survivor who has evolved beyond her past struggles and is currently living in an apartment downtown. She bravely speaks out on her experiences as a homeless person and does her best to volunteer and assist those in need.
“I remember being so ashamed of what I looked like while being on the streets. People’s disgusted looks and jokes from teenagers made me feel constantly humiliated,” recalls Amanda. “I became homeless at 17 years old. My roommate got into a very bad stage in her life and could not pay rent anymore; I could not pay it by myself, and there was no one at that moment who could help me,” explains Amanda.
Cabot has a history of homeless people passing away due to a lack of resources and insufficient capacity in shelters. In January 2022, the Montreal Gazette reported that another indigenous homeless person had passed away: “Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and co-manager of Resilience Montreal, noted that another homeless member of the local Indigenous community has died on the streets since the death of André. An Inuk woman, Elisapee Pootoogook, was found dead on a construction site near Cabot Square this past November.”
Amanda explains how it feels to have people view you as worthless and how much it affects one’s mental health in the long run: “I recall a woman passing by with her friends and giving me the dirtiest look ever while they were all smirking, only because I asked for some change. I always asked myself: ‘What if I were their child, sister, or cousin? Would they still do the same thing?’” says Amanda, troubled.
“Once, I passed by Cabot Square and decided to stay there for a couple of days; it was terrible and very saddening,” says Amanda. “I wish Cabot Square became a healthier and more stable place for every vulnerable person. I was lucky enough to get out of homelessness thanks to my aunt, who found out about my situation, but not everyone will have that luck.”
The rising number of homeless deaths is one of the critical issues the city of Montreal is facing. Sarah Sultani, an affiliate of the mayor’s office and executive committee of the city, spoke up regarding the measures to improve the conditions of homeless people: “We put in different teams of police officers and social workers and make sure they humanely approach them,” says Sultani.
The neighbourhood’s at-risk population not only includes people on the streets but families and kids in need as well. Youth organizations work hard to help them and improve their situation. “There are a lot of issues of cohabitation in this neighbourhood. We put in place different measures for cohabitation and social habitation,” expresses Sultani.
To effectively help vulnerable people, it is crucial to treat them with the same regard as any other human being, with respect and care. “Resilience Health Center made their centre more humane, livable, and positive with different activities to have a good approach,” mentions Sultani.
Sultani evoked the importance of being aware of the different types of homelessness, as it does not only affect people who are on the streets. “Homelessness comes in different forms, such as sleeping at your friend’s house, at a restaurant, or in the metro,” explains Sultani. “Issues such as domestic violence and mental health issues also lead to homelessness, and it is the Quebec government’s responsibility.”
There has been an improvement in availabilities in centres such as CIUSS Centre-Sud, yet, according to Sultani, more needs to be done: “CIUSS Centre-Sud opened 1600 new spaces, which was the highest number the city has ever seen. But making sure emergency housing is available is also important.”
“The challenging part is having enough financial resources to open all the resources we want to open. The most exciting aspect is collaborating with the homeless organization, the First Nation, the city, and the borough. Working together is not always easy, but it is the best way to advance,” says Sultani.
“I wish for everyone to have a roof over their heads and food on their tables; our end game is for everyone to have access to social workers who can help them,” concludes Sultani, hopeful.