Pointe Claire’s Ashgrove apartments home to new type of homelessness, says West Island youth group
© Photo Anthony Abbondanza
Seven young adults reportedly consume drugs, alcohol and couch surf in one of the Ashgrove apartment buildings in Pointe Claire. The West Island Youth Action claims couch surfing is a new type of homelessness previously unseen in the West Island.
Drugs, alcohol, and couch surfing are just some of the realities facing seven young adults just metres away from the Pointe Claire Train Station.
The Chronicle has learned the Ashgrove apartment the seven men, ages 18 to 20, have been renting the last year is in poor living condition, ridden with drugs, garbage and sleeping bags.
A West Island Youth Action (AJOI) outreach worker made contact with one of the individuals last year at a nearby park and at the West Island Career Centre. He soon after discovered the squalor condition of the apartment, which is owned by a man living in Sri Lanka.
“Nothing is done about it because he’s halfway across the world. We found sleeping bags everywhere and drugs everywhere,” said Benoit Langevin, director and co-founder of AJOI.
According to Langevin, the organization sent free mattresses donated by Matelas Bonheur, the branch located just below the AJOI office on Gouin Boulevard in Ste. Genevieve, to replace the sleeping bags, used by what he described as “couch surfers.”
For Langevin, couch surfing represents a new alarming type of homelessness.
Although the men are not, by definition, homeless, they do represent a particular segment of society without a stable home.
“Can we say they’re homeless? No, because they have a roof over their head, but its couch surfing. They are in a temporary situation,” said Langevin.
Unaware of the situation, Pointe Claire Mayor Morris Trudeau said he’s not surprised to hear of homelessness in his city.
“It happens in all cities all over the world,” said Trudeau.
The mayor was surprised, however, to learn about couch surfing, which is generally referenced as the practice of travelling cheap, sleeping on couches rather than expensive hotel beds.
The West Island Youth Action is seeing more cases of young adults couch surfing from poorly-kept apartments to the next.
So what’s being done about homelessness in the West Island? Nothing, to Langevin’s accord.
The absence of resources, he said, is in large part due to the unyielding perceived notion that homelessness doesn’t exist in the West Island, which is among the more affluent regions in Montreal.
Over 17,000 people from the age of 1-34 are living in precarious living conditions, according to AJOI figures. Last year, the organization’s outreach workers, formerly known as street workers, intervened in 59 cases of homelessness
Those at most risk of becoming homeless are within the 15-24 age group who’ve dropped out school and exhibit problems associated with substance abuse and parental neglect. More than 9,000 people fall within this category, according to AJOI estimates.
If the CLSC doesn’t have a plan for homelessness, who else will? And, we have the biggest HSSC territory. But we don’t have a plan for homelessness? Benoit Langevin, AJOI
While the West Island Health and Social Services Centre (HSSC) does indeed offer support to people 18 and under, services for young adults on the verge of losing their home, or, are currently hopping from one couch to the next are non-existent – unless they exhibit issues of mental health.
“If the CLSC doesn’t have a plan for homelessness, who else will? And, we have the biggest HSSC territory. But we don’t have a plan for homelessness?” said Langevin.
Currently, there are 159 available beds (eg. Omega and Centre Bievenue) in the West Island for individuals, age 18 and over, with mental health issues.
But without an exhibited and documented mental health problem, young adults facing less than ideal living conditions fall through the cracks of the social welfare system, and without available resources.
“So if you’re poor and you got a major problem, I can’t do anything for those types of people. They’re isolated. They’re in extreme poverty. They get their welfare cheques and they consume,” said Langevin.
For women, the only recourse is the West Island Women’s Shelter, which provides shelter for those experience conjugal violence.
AJOI-sponsored shelter in the works?
Upon publishing a study regarding homelessness and couch surfing in the West Island, AJOI will be begin looking into the possibility of establishing a shelter for people with or without documented mental health issues.
The proposed shelter would have eight beds.
The organization is still in talks with several private landowners as well as members of St. Barnabas Church in Pierrefonds. The ideal location, according to Langevin, is the western sectors of either Dollard des Ormeaux or Pierrefonds.
In the interim, AJOI’s outreach workers continue to escort the homeless to shelters in downtown, Montreal.
During an interview with the Chronicle, Mayor Trudeau noted the important role AJOI play’s in the community.
“They’re very important because the youth is meeting with their peers, and not with men that are 70. They’re well trained and now how to communicate with youth at risk,” he said.
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