Montreal aims to smooth relations between homeless people and their Milton Park neighbours
For the past few years, the empty lot at the corner of Parc Avenue and Milton Street has become a gathering place for a group of homeless people, most of whom are Indigenous, in part due to the proximity of the Open Door day shelter.
While the issue isn't a new one, some advocates say tensions among people who live, work, or even frequent this street corner are rising.
The city of Montreal and the Plateau borough are investing $60,000 into a project where mediators from the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal collaborate with police officers in order to improve relations.
Brett Pineau, executive director of the Native Friendship Centre, told CBC that the money will be used to pay two social mediation workers who will work to reduce tensions between residents, merchants and those living on the street.
He said the investment is building on the success of a pilot project where intervention workers from the centre accompany officers on patrols.
The mediators will also work to connect unhoused people with resources.
"We hope by starting early we can make an impact before things start to deteriorate later in the day," said Pineau.
Police cars are a frequent sight in the area, where more than a dozen unhoused people line the sidewalk next to the vacant lot.
After metal fencing was put up on the vacant lot by the owner to deter people hanging out there, one advocate says the move has led to more accidents.
Last summer, Inuk woman Kitty Kakkinerk died after being hit by a car on Parc. In January, Raphaël André died just steps from the Open Door shelter.
John Tessier, who works as a co-ordinator at the Open Door, said since the fence was put up, people have been pushed onto the sidewalk and closer to cars and trucks.
"One thing that would be very helpful, an immediate solution in my humble opinion, is to remove the fence so people can hang out off the street," Tessier said.