The Magdalen Islands in Quebec may be a summer paradise for tourists looking to relax on the long sandy beaches, but this seasonal popularity forces some locals to roam.
And the pandemic has made matters worse, officials say. With no vacant housing and very few apartment buildings per se, tenants find themselves in short-term leases in the low season.
When summer arrives, these short-term tenants are forced to make way for tourists who pay a higher price for a vacation in the archipelago.
The Canadian Red Cross, volunteers and several local partners now run a homeless shelter in a space above a former arena on Île du Havre-aux-Maisons.
Even if it is not yet the high season, “there is already someone staying there,” said Danielle Hubert, interim director general of the Municipality of Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
The place can accommodate about twenty people, and if necessary, it can be extended.
The shelter, which provides cots, a kitchen and a common area as well as bathrooms and showers, will be open until September 15.
The municipality is supporting the initiative by investing $ 25,000, although it is limited only to residents of the islands.
People wishing to stay at the shelter must contact the Cap-aux-Meules CSLC to find out if they are eligible. This is a confidential process aimed at preserving people’s dignity, according to the local health authority.
“Is this ideal? Between you and me, no. Is it better than being on the street? Between you and me, yes, ”declared the mayor of Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Jonathan Lapierre.
Lapierre says housing challenges cannot be resolved in the short term and the problem is complex.
Meanwhile, city officials are working to encourage landlords to allow tenants to sign one-year leases rather than staying only during the off-season.
A bylaw was recently passed to invest $ 100,000 in a project to reward landlords who keep their tenants year round. In order not to evict people in the summer, “people can earn between $ 1,000 and $ 5,000 on an annual basis,” Lapierre explained.
A housing committee has also been formed to study the issue and seek other solutions.
“The housing committee will also have the mandate to support the municipal team in the reflections surrounding the development of a housing strategy and an action plan with short and long-term proposals, which will be deposited in 2022, ”declared the mayor of Grosse-Île. Rose Elmonde Clarke.
The committee is trying to approach the problem from all angles, officials said.
“We are determined to provide concrete solutions for housing on the islands,” said Lapierre.
MP Joël Arseneau has been sounding the alarm for some time, saying last month that at least 20 families have asked him for help.
“There is certainly an emergency situation for a number of people who are fundamentally stranded,” he said.
The vacancy rate on the islands is zero, which means there is no more room for people once they are, in accordance with their temporary rental agreement, forced to vacate for the summer. .
Arseneau said he was working on ways to build more apartment and housing complexes.
But André St-Onge, who works with the region’s social development network, says it could take years.
He called for “the solidarity of the island community, to provide space, to provide space where people can put a caravan if they find one,” he said.
He said even providing a living space in the basement would help.