A new resource intended for people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction is creating controversy in the South-West borough of Montreal.
The construction of a new establishment where a community organization will offer transitional housing is well underway with the aim of getting people off the street. However, the new building will also include a supervised drug consumption site.
With its proximity to a park and an elementary school, some parents say they are worried.
“It’s very alarming for us, because we don’t really know what the consequences will be,” said Mélodie Turcotte, whose granddaughter regularly plays in the park.
The upper levels of the new Maison Benoit Labre will offer 36 studios for homeless people and social workers will be present on each floor.
“This is really essential transitional housing to get people off the street and into an organized life,” explained Craig Sauvé, Saint-Henri municipal councilor.
It’s the lower level of the facility that really makes Turcotte uncomfortable. There will be a supervised drug consumption site, where people will be allowed to use illicit drugs in the presence of social workers.
“I want to emphasize the importance of helping people experiencing homelessness and drug addiction,” Turcotte said. “At the same time. I can’t imagine a worse location for a facility like this.
The building sits right next to the city’s busy Atwater Market and Victor Rousselot Elementary School, which uses the park as its schoolyard.
“If there are too many people, what will happen? Will there be any spillover effects into the neighboring park, which is literally just a few steps away? Turcotte asks.
Under construction since 2019, the facility has approval and funding from all levels of government.
“Projects rooted in harm reduction practices are one of the ways that communities can truly work together to improve the quality of life for almost everyone, but particularly marginalized communities,” said Olivier Gauvin, coordinator of the Table of Montreal Community Organizations. of the fight against AIDS.
Sauvé says the goal of the establishment is to prevent people from using drugs in public spaces, a practice that is increasingly common in the neighborhood.
“What we want to do is take that consumption from the outside and bring it inside under surveillance. That means fewer syringes, that means fewer people in crisis on the streets,” he explained.
Turcotte wonders if the new site could attract more drug dealers to the neighborhood.
“If people go there to use drugs, does that increase crime? she asks.
An online petition against the facility has more than 1,600 signatures, but not all parents in the area have signed.
“I think people with mental health problems need help, even if it [makes] the rest of us may be uncomfortable,” said Ivana Markovic, as her child played in the park.
If it’s not possible to move the safe injection site, Turcotte wants rea*surance that everything will go well.
“They need to make sure it has the resources it needs to function properly and is very safe,” she said, saying the understaffed health system makes her wonder if the The establishment will have enough employees.
“We pay a social worker to come and clean the park in the morning before school starts. We are going to build fences in this park,” Sauvé said. “They will also have a cleaning brigade already operational in our neighborhood.”
An information session at the school gymnasium Tuesday evening will host those for and against the new facility. Parents, project coordinators, police officers and politicians will be among those who will share their views.