Montreal is finding a way to house its population of homeless people: prison.

As of September 1, 2006, it became illegal to be in a public space such as a public park past midnight and punishable by fines. The Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), a homelessness advocacy group and a federation of 73 homeless groups in Montreal have staged several protests to highlight the plight of their members and raise public awareness in reaction to the ticketing.

“We found that homeless people have debts at the municipal courts for over $3 million and of that, $2 million are from tickets given out by the metro,”

Céline Bellot“It started out as a global intention of cleaning up the city,” said RAPSIM co-ordinator Pierre Gaudreau. The “cleanup” was encouraged by soaring downtown condo development in recent years.

The city initially intended to herd the homeless into shelters, said Gaudreau, “but you can not force people to go to shelters.”

In the last two years the homeless have racked up over $3 million in unpaid fines in Montreal. Why? Because when a homeless individual is issued a ticket, the court notifications are usually sent to the closest shelter.

In that Montreal’s already overcrowded and underfunded shelters are incapable of keeping track of their clientele, the tickets accumulate and the individuals fail to show up in court, jail time is the end result.

Once more, the city’s transit system, the STM, which had previously promised to show leniency towards homeless indi-viduals in times of extreme cold and snow went back on its own promise. In the last two years alone ticketing for homeless individuals in the metro system has increased 225 per cent, according to criminologist Céline Bellot, who spoke on behalf of RAPSIM at their most recent protest on May 17.

“We found that homeless people have debts at the municipal courts for over $3 million and of that, $2 million are from tickets given out by the metro,” said Bellot.

Marginalized aboriginals make up part of the face of Montreal’s homeless and are being subjected to the ticketing.

Aaron McDevitt, an Inuit who worked intensely with Montreal’s homeless aboriginal population over a six-month period while working for the website, said, “We often don’t realize that this can be anyone, anyone can end up being on the street.”

According to McDevitt, the website was not only created as a project so that homeless individuals could have e-mail and share their stories but also to sensitize the general population to the harsh realities of homelessness.

McDevitt noted that many homeless aboriginals he had encountered from the north on the streets had come south to seek out medical treatment that was unavailable to them in their own communities.

McDevitt was amazed at how many women he had encountered whom had come to Montreal simply to give birth. “It’s anyone who runs the chance of getting caught up in the big city. In the city there are a lot of temptations and they have misunderstandings about money, mishandling money and so for a lot of them that is how they come to be homeless in Montreal.”

RAPSIM has made some progress with the City of Montreal in regards to the public parks situation, resulting in an 11 per cent decrease in the number of tickets issued in the last few months. But the essential problem remains: “These people need housing, not tickets,” said Gaudreau.