The Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre along with other stakeholders in the city’s homelessness issue met with representatives from three levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal – on May 26 to discuss various city proposals for its most vulnerable citizens. It was also an opportunity for those working on the frontlines with the homeless to voice their concerns when it came to harmonious social cohabitation.
Also participating were workers from La Piaule and Le Dotoir (both shelters for the homeless), the CSSS (provincial health and social services centres), the Sûreté du Québec and the frontline workers group.
One of the proposals is to rent a space on 3rd Avenue in Val-d’Or that could serve as a day centre for the city’s itinerant substance abusers whose issues prevent them from accessing other programs and services.
At the same time, according to Edith Cloutier, Executive Director of the VDNFC, another proposal put forth is for a summer police cadet program to join forces with the city’s frontline workers so that they could walk their beats together. This would mean that police could be on hand so that citizens and businesses could get immediate assistance when there is an issue with the homeless.
“Police officers are there to enforce the law whereas frontline workers are there to support the homeless person and help them when they are in distress. They also provide them with syringes and condoms and provide them with an ear to listen to them when they need it,” said Cloutier.
“If you have the police standing there while the frontline worker is handing a syringe to a drug addict and he shoots up, he is committing a crime and the police is right there and the link of trust is destroyed.”
While Cloutier understands the concerns being expressed by the community or the economic pressure being put on those in politics, her position is that the politicians should be joining forces with the community workers because together they could be more effective.
She said the meeting ended with a resolution for all parties to get a better understanding of the issue of homelessness and to meet again on June 13.
It was with this in mind however that Cloutier and her team at the VDNFC put out a press release to serve as a reminder that those who represent the region must also stand up for all their constituents and that includes the homeless.
According to Cloutier, it may be better to stop questioning how those on the frontlines are doing their jobs to ensure that those in business stay safe, and to communicate to the public just how these organizations are doing their jobs and how effective that has been.
While there are arguments from the business community that the streets are unsafe and people are scared in the downtown area, Cloutier says if that message is reinforced, all it does is tell the public that there is a lack of coordination and nobody is doing anything about this issue.
“It has people saying that our organizations are getting this money and failing to use it properly. We need to change the political discourse to show what is actually working and that we care about everyone. We care about having a safe downtown and quality of life for everyone. We want the businesses in downtown Val-d’Or to be open but we also want quality of life for all citizens, including the homeless,” said Cloutier.