Last fall, an encampment under Joffre Bridge shone a spotlight on homelessness in Sherbrooke for several weeks.
A harsh winter has passed since. The triangle of downtown resources, le Partage Saint-François, Ma Cabane, and La Chaudronnée, coordinated to experiment with extended hours or locations available to the population. Weekend warm-up hours were added, and an alternate overnight site was made available when temperatures were forecast to drop below -20 degrees.
“This was a cold winter. We weren’t ready. Our integrated plans weren’t in place,” explains Marc St-Louis of Ma Cabane. “In our discussions, the hope is next winter, an action plan will be elaborated before the winter, not when we’re in it with both feet.”
Across the street, tucked up under the bridge near the entrance to the Partage Saint-Francois, a few tents reappeared not too long after the encampment was cleared last fall. A handful of people have wintered there. Not the only encampment in town, but probably the most visible one.
Last week, one couple explained they had been there for the last three months. A few more privacy blankets may have been strung up lately, but it is still the same group. No, not more people. Maybe half a dozen.
That matches what Gabriel Pallotta of the Table d’itinérance de Sherbrooke says, “No more than 5-6 people have been sleeping there. They’re known to our services. They’re keeping tabs on them, making sure they’re aware of this or that service.”
“The community police talk to them regularly too, to make sure there are no conflicts, no security risks,” Pallotta says. “For the moment it’s stable, so no movement.”
Pallotta’s roundtable unites some 24 member organizations, as listed on its Facebook group. The Sherbrooke police and City of Sherbrooke are among the members.
Pallotta is encouraged by the city’s openness to dialogue since Mayor Évelyne Beaudin’s new administration was elected last fall.
“They ask us as many questions as we ask them. It’s refreshing, because in the past we were used to fighting just to be heard. Now, the conversation is two-way. But there hasn’t been much movement on the planning discussions yet,” Pallotta says.
“It’s work that has been on ice since the pandemic started. We’re supposed to resume soon. If not this spring, then next fall at the latest,” says Pallotta. “We’ll be insisting it be this spring.”
Pallotta sounds as if his organizations expect a city-led process to kick off soon. For his part, Steve Roy, communications coordinator for the mayor’s cabinet, describes a process that will be led by the community organizations themselves.
“Yes, that would be this spring or fall. I don’t have dates for that currently,” says Roy. “Honestly, they are quite overwhelmed. I don’t think we’re going to impose a date on them.”
“The idea is not that the city decides what we do. It is the actors in the community who meet and talk, then propose a path,” says Roy.