Combined Efforts Benefit Homeless

Three Montreal Shelters Team Up to Share Resources

It wasn’t uncommon a few years ago for a homeless person to be turned away from a shelter due to over-crowding, even in the dead of winter.

But over the last five years, Montreal’s three major homeless shelters—the Welcome Hall Mission, the Old Brewery Mission and Maison du Père—have been taking steps to join forces and ensure that no one is left out in the cold.

“One of the largest problems that we’re dealing with right now is the mental health issue. A lot of our clients suffer from mental health problems,” said Cyril Morgan of the Welcome Hall Mission. “Trying to get a psychologist to work with us is very difficult.”

The three shelters have begun talks with McGill University, the Université de Montréal and the provincial government to try and get training for their intake workers, so that they will be able to recognize mental health issues or triggers for certain people and then send them off to professionals who can work with them.

“Many [homeless] people suffer from all kinds of issues—they fall asleep during the day time, freeze their hands, freeze their feet—all kinds of crazy stuff. I know society will say, ‘Why should we pick this up?’” said Morgan.

The three shelters are also working closely with the At Home/Chez Soi program, a federally sponsored project which aims to help with those dealing with the financial burden of living with mental illness.

“We’ve been working with them for the last two years and we’re very concerned about when funding runs out from this program in 2013, that the homeless people who do suffer from mental illness will slowly migrate back to the streets,” said Morgan.

“You can’t take a person who has been on the streets for five years or more, put a band-aid on them and say, ‘In a month you’ll be fine.’ [Helping these people is] a long-term process.”

The first step taken by the three missions five years ago was to petition the city for a shuttle bus that would take homeless people from a full shelter to one with vacancies.

“We would talk to each other, but it was like we were all different businesses. It got to a point where we said, ‘This is enough. Together we can do much more than apart,’” said Morgan.

Maison du Père and the Old Brewery Mission are located seven blocks away from each other. In the past, if one was full, there might still have been a chance of making it on foot to the next one before they all closed their doors for the night.

The Welcome Hall Mission, however, is considerably further away, which means that for the homeless, choosing the wrong shelter could mean a night on the street in temperatures dropping to -20 C and lower.

In addition to the shuttle bus, the shelters will now open their doors early if the temperature drops below -10 C.

On any given night, the three shelters can house around 640 of the roughly 30,000 homeless people in Montreal, said the Old Brewery Mission’s Michelle Llambias.

“We’ve had that number for the past five years,” she noted. “It’s hard to calculate, [so] it’s a rough estimate. About a third of that number is women.”