Montreal organization helping homeless in Milton Parc pressured to relocate co-op

"We have to fight to have the right to be here to help others,” says Jonathan Lebire of Comm-Un, an organization helping Indigenous people facing homelessness in Montreal's Milton Parc area, now pressured to relocate. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

A Montreal organization that operates an arts center for Indigenous people experiencing homelessness in Milton Parc can no longer stay in its current space.

Director and co-founder of Comm-Un, Jonathan Lebire, says due to a lack of funding and resources, they can’t afford to remain in their location on Parc Avenue, in the area where many Indigenous people face homelessness. 

“Everybody’s homeless here and I am homeless too, so this is our place of refuge and where we where we feel safe and do our artwork,” says artist Daniel Joseph Charles McLaren.

Lebire says they have been feeling pressure to leave. “From the landlord, we don’t have the money to pay the rent, so for sure it’s difficult for them to have us here,” he said.

Jonathan Lebire, director and co-founder of Comm-un. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

“That’s why we wanted to build a project that could be fundable, but also by the residents and neighbours who don’t know what we’re doing, and I think they’re really afraid that it would create another place where people were hanging out.”

Lebire’s organization has been offering a shared space in Milton Parc for the last three years.

“It’s one of the places that were identified in Montreal where there was a humanitarian crisis of homelessness,” he said. “Also a place where a lot of my Indigenous friends are and I’ve been working with them for a while, learning a lot. And Milton is a place where a safe space is needed.”

Daniel Joseph Charles McLaren, an artist at Comm-un’s coop. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

McLaren is Algonquin from Winneway in northern Quebec and has been homeless since he came to Montreal in 2018. He’s been creating artwork from a young age and found community at Comm-Un four months ago.

“[Lebire] gave me an opportunity to keep myself busy,” he said. “I met a lot of cool people too at the same time.”

Daniel Joseph Charles McLaren’s artwork at Comm-un’s coop. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

“We have a bunch of carvers, it’s not just me,” he added. “There’s a bunch of artists all over, that’s the reason [Lebire] built this place.”

Lebire says they’ll be moving to an existing location further away in the Plateau neighbourhood to regroup on funding and determine the next steps for their future.

“We need money and we need social support, we need people to understand what homelessness is,” said Lebire. “It’s not true that they can just give money to an organization that would be professionals and then it’s all dealt with.

“What we wish is for sure to get the resources and get people’s attention and awareness because homelessness is created by every day, accepting the unacceptable.”

For many, like McLaren, the space has been an escape from the streets. He says he hopes the organization can soon re-establish itself in the area.

“For me, it’s kind of a loss because the people on Milton Parc are going to be losing everything,” he said.

But Lebire says he’s not left with much choice.

“It’s not comfortable for us to be here anymore, and it’s like we have to fight to have the right to be here to help the others,” he said.

Comm-un organization (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

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