A Montreal social worker says homeless people are frequently facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and in one case a man has collected more than $110,000 in tickets.

Émilie Guimond-Bélanger, from the legal aid group Droit Devant, said many of the tickets are for infractions such as drinking in public and loitering, which are difficult for the homeless to avoid.

Guimond-Bélanger said she believes the homeless are unfairly targeted and that the fines are not only hard on the people getting them, but a financial strain on the legal system.

Alex Berthelot is among those who says the tickets are unreasonable. He collected nearly $10,000 in fines over his two years of homelessness, including for things like noise and improperly disposing of cigarette ashes.

Berthelot agrees with Guimond-Bélanger that the homeless are unfairly targeted. “In your suit and tie you’re not going to get a ticket ‘cause you ashed your cigarette,” he said.

He even sings a song about it, from the home where he now lives. “I was squeegeeing on St. Denis. Cops came by and they ticketed me,” he crooned while strumming a guitar.

“I wish the cops would just leave me alone. Ain’t got enough dough to afford a home,” he went on.

Bethelot says Droit Devant helped him get out of paying his fines, which had been causing him to worry he could “lose everything (he had) worked so hard to get.”

Montreal Police, however, say they avoid picking on homeless people and that their tickets are handed out for good reasons.

“We’re not acting on an individual, we’re acting on an infraction, because we want the people to feel safe in their community,” said Cmdr. Vincent Richer.

A recent count concluded Montreal has at least 784 people who have been homeless more than four years and at least 1,357 who are cyclically homeless. Community groups have recently launched a five-year plan that aims to have 2,000 people exit the streets by 2020.

Homeless advocates have also raised concerns about excessive ticketing in Ontario, which passed the controversial Safe Streets Act in 1999 to deal with aggressive panhandling.

The number of tickets issued in Toronto under the Safe Streets Act rose from 710 in 2000 to 15,224 in 2010, according to a University of Guelph and York University study. Over that same period, the number of street youth listing panhandling or squeegeeing as their main source of income declined from 29 per cent to just three per cent.

With a report from CTV Montreal