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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Homelessness and police intervention hot topics in the village

Supposedly representing a group of some 2,000 residents (or is it passersby? it’s hard to say), the petition from two village merchants was geared at increasing police presence in the Village, a stunning about-face from a community that for so long was itself the subject of police oppression. "The Village has become an open air needle site,” one of the petitioners told Mayor Tremblay before going on to ask “What are you going to do to ensure shop owners and their customers aren't confronted by a person lying in the street with a needle in their arm every morning?" The merchants were compelled to start the petition after one of them was attacked and beaten in front of his bar this past summer. In a press release from media campaigner William Raillant-Clark, the campaigners stated that “the heightened problems this year proved to be the proverbial straw on the camel's back,” even though there was at least an attempt made at acknowledging that the real source of the homelessness problem is the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and lack of resources for their care.
“The first line of defence for a merchant is police presence. But fundamentally what matters is the collective will of everyone in the area to find ways to help people who really need it,” said La Piazzetta’s Mathieu Riendeau. Fresh from their Pink Balls street closure success, Société de développement communautaire (SDC) du Village director Bernard Plante also weighed in, telling Être’s Thibaut Temmerman that “the gay community is tolerant, but they’ve reached their limit.” “We really want to have sympathy for these people who have serious problems, but the neighbourhood and the people working and living in it can’t put up with everything,” echoed the manager of the Java U beside Beaudry Métro. All of the merchants Temmerman interviewed also addressed a growing concern over the presence of “street gangs,” by which we presume they mean drug dealers and their ilk, who, everyone knows, have long flocked to the east end of downtown due to customer demand and lighter police presence.

So, when you cut through the various statements and counter-statements, the petitioners’ argument looks a little like this: since the police crack-down on gay bars and homeless people leading up to the 1976 Olympics, the Village has benefited from less police surveillance, allowing us to go on doing the gay things we do. Since then— Sex Garage and other police raids, constant police harassment of homeless people during the 2006 OutGames aside—the business owners of the Village corridor suddenly felt stirred to ask for greater police presence because now the tide has turned: the homeless and injection users and dealers have gotten scary and are impacting their business. Everyone seems well aware that it would be politically incorrect, given LGBT history, to simply ask the Police to boot out the homeless people and drug users so our neighbourhood can continue on its path to gentrification. Clearly, anyone who has been attacked on the street where they live or do business will certainly feel vulnerable and want to ask for greater support. But the underlying question remains: to whom this area known as the Village belong and why?
Looking at the many fascinating articles that fill this image-packed Fall issue, from recruitment entrepreneur Eric Sicotte to the AIDS-fundraiser-cum-Circuit-party Black & Blue, the dichotomy of what it is to be in the business of gay (or to be a gay in business) becomes clear: we are part of a community with our own history of oppression, who have come to the point where we now have the money and influence to start defending our livelihoods like any other citizen in the demographic mosaic. But how to do this without alienating other marginalized groups, or groups who are far more marginalized now than our own?

The answer can only come from the discussions and community initiatives we will definitely be covering in forthcoming issues. But for now, we might ask, what if the strategies for LGBT civil rights were applied to the homeless and injection drug-user population, rather than simply resorting to a punitive herding of these people using the SPVM, who are known to kill homeless people and minorities without cause, and without consequence for members of their “brotherhood”?

More info soon on the demo planned for Oct 7th to bring more attention to this issue.