Since the closure of the humanitarian book-free space and the dismantling of an improvised camp, many homeless people have lived hidden in the woods, parks and public areas of Saint-Jérôme, on the fringes of a society that continues to reject them. refuse to take responsibility.
“With the new rules [qui interdit l’installation de tentes dans les lieux publics], they are all hidden. It’s a real “seek and find” in Saint-Jérôme,” says Chantal Dumont from Humanitarian Book.
For two weeks, Chantal has been walking the streets and in the woods in search of her protégés. She brings them food and blankets and puts them in contact with each other to ensure they stay alive. In her phone she has pictures of each of them. In the case of. Because the more isolated they are, the more vulnerable they are.
In the former Book Refuge, she took in “the outcasts”, those who, for various reasons, do not fit into other housing resources. And it disturbed. She has been forced to move five times in recent years. “It is certain that we will not arrive with 50 little kittens to pet, she admits. People are afraid, they find it confrontational. »
Last spring, the organization lost most of its funding from CISSS. Then, in the fall, the city evicted them. “Since January we have had 1,300 complaints from citizens, this could not continue,” explains the mayor of Saint-Jérôme, Marc Bourcier. “It was very difficult for the team. And I, as mayor, don’t deal with homelessness because it’s a problem for the provincial government, on the other hand, people’s safety was extremely important. »
The Smurfs’ Village
In the hours following the closure of the shelter, on 1eh October, blue tents appeared just behind the La Hutte refuge by the Sainte-Paule church. They called this camp “the village of the smurfs”. At first everything was good. But it quickly degenerated, say those who stayed there. Violence and drugs had become ubiquitous, to the point that some went into the woods to set up new camps.
The mayor of Saint-Jérôme passed a bylaw banning camping in parks, citing safety concerns. On October 25, three camps were dismantled by the city’s fire department under police supervision. CISSS workers were there to offer help to those who wanted it.
The majority have moved to La Hutte, which has opened around twenty overflow beds for the occasion. But gladly The duty were able to see, many still found themselves on the streets, without resources.
The problem is that since the closure of the humanitarian book, there is no longer any shelter that welcomes everyone without restrictions to offer them a roof and a hot meal.
But the mayor is categorical: He no longer wants this type of resources, which, according to him, only “gives birth to homelessness”. “We decided to take care of homelessness in a different way in Saint-Jérôme,” he explains proudly. We turned to La Hutte, an example preferred by the ministry. It’s a model where you don’t just give them fish, you give them a fishing rod. »
Reintegration: not for everyone
But among the homeless population, not everyone is ready to start a reintegration process, pleads Chantal Dumont. “They dropped out of society for a reason, and now we’re pushing to force them back into it. You have to go at their pace. If we wait until they’re ready to give them a chance, we risk finding a big. gang died behind containers. »
Étienne, 36, is not ready to “take responsibility” and does not want to stop using. “I’ve already tried many methods, strategies,” he says, miming quotation marks with his fingers. I have reached my third life, but I am not a cat. »
Until very recently, Étienne spent his nights on the sofas of the Humanitarian Book. When he moved too much air, Chantal gave him a ride. Today he has nowhere to sleep. “He doesn’t want a house, what he wants is a place to rest, a drop-in, explains Chantal. Should we force reintegration on him? »
Étienne and Chantal join Mélanie, who has been dragging her life in a grocery cart for five years. “I sleep on the street, anywhere the police don’t bother us,” she says.
Mélanie “ate ointment” more often than on the street. But she categorically refuses to go to housing resources like La Hutte. “It’s worse than a prison in there!” she says, annoyed at always being asked this question.
A woman walks by with her eyes on the ground. Chantal gives chase. “Hey Ruth! We’ve been looking for you everywhere for a week. Are you right?” Ruth grumbles a little at the employment agency, who asks her for papers she’s lost a long time before continuing on her way. Chantal is relieved that knowing that she is alive, calls a policeman to give him the information.
A little further on, a man has built a temporary camp, hidden in a tree. He doesn’t know how long he will be able to sleep there before the police find him and ask him to move out. At the edge of the river, Jacques has just been told to take apart his tent. “He’s pissed because he was told he has to leave at noon tomorrow and he doesn’t know where he’s going,” sums up Chantal, who brings him a sandwich as a consolation.
Despite criticism from some, La Hutte’s general manager, François Savoie, believes in its reintegration model, which aims to “break the cycle of homelessness”.
But he is aware that it is not for everyone. “We offer an option, but there are other shelters in the Laurentians. There are a range of services offered. Despite everything, there are people who will say, ‘I don’t want that’. At the end of the day, it’s their right, but it is also their responsibility.”
He also clarifies that consumables are prohibited at La Hutte, but that people are welcome there, even when intoxicated, on the condition that they do not pose a risk to their own health and that they show respect. There are also extra beds for those who just want to sleep, and there are plans to add a heating stop.
In the meantime, the situation is rapidly worsening for those on the streets, laments Chantal. Already, abandoned buildings have been engulfed in flames in recent days, possibly the work of homeless people who wanted to warm up. “What are we waiting for to intervene, for someone to die? »