The only night shelter for aboriginals in Montreal is threatened with closure.
The Projets Autochtones du Québec Shelter, which houses Aboriginal homeless people in Montreal on De La Gauchetière Street, is threatened with closure. And so far, his relocation is blocked everywhere by the syndrome «not in my backyard». This night shelter, the only shelter specifically for Montréal’s homeless clientele, is housed in a CSSS Jeanne-Mance building. However, the building has urgent needs for renovations, and could eventually be used to house offices of the CLSC Faubourgs-Sanguinet. For two years now, the group, supported by an organizer of the CSSS Jeanne-Mance, has been trying to find a place to relocate. In vain. The refusals are unanimous everywhere.
«We studied 35 sites, but the majority were not visited, because the boroughs had a veto on visits», says Manuel Desafiel, CSSS delegate Jeanne-Mance in the file, which adds moreover that 18 other sites were analyzed without success. The Projets Autochtones du Québec (PAQ) relocation is mainly due to the refusal of the boroughs to accept the opening of a new homeless shelter, «let alone an aboriginal shelter», said Mr. Desafiel. Even the Ville-Marie borough, which has been home to the PAQ, is under pressure from groups of citizens, merchants, who refuse to open a new community organization in the borough. «We are at an impasse», says Mr. Desafiel. The people involved in the project are worried and discouraged, he adds.
Projets Autochtones du Québec has 30 beds for men and 7 beds for women. Its clientele, entirely Aboriginal, is made up of 50% Inuit, the other clients being First Nations. «This is the only place where aboriginals go, where they feel comfortable», says Donat Savoie, who works for the Makivik Corporation on the subject of homelessness among the Inuit of Montreal. It is also the only shelter in Montreal that accepts drunk clients, adds Mr. Desafiel.
Fleeing overcrowded housing, the astronomical cost of living and the harsh living conditions in the North, 56% of Montreal’s Inuit population lives on EI, social assistance or is homeless. Although the Inuit population represents only 10% of Montreal’s Aboriginal population, it accounts for 45% of its homeless population. Statistics show that Nunavik is home to the biggest problem of overcrowding in Canada, says Savoie.
Projets Autochtones du Québec offer a three-pronged program: emergency shelter, transitional beds for those who are not yet homeless, and a day center that offers clients social inclusion, including the orientation and search for housing and jobs, as well as the establishment of a plan of life.
«Denying the establishment of an aboriginal shelter will not solve the problem», says Savoie. People will just end up with 300 more aboriginals on the street. The citizens of the Shaughnessy Village Association, which Inuit frequent a lot in downtown Montreal, are frightened by this idea, he says.
This PAQ lease ends on June 30th. On April 4, the CSSS Jeanne-Mance, owner of the premises, offered to the city of Montreal, responsible for the lease to date, to extend the lease for a period of six months. The City did not respond to this offer. And according to Manuel Desafiel, the City of Montreal is no longer willing to financially support PAQ. «We are in solution mode», lacrally repeated Fabrice Giguère, in the office of Jocelyn-Ann Campbell, responsible for the file on the executive committee of the city of Montreal, without going into details.
Yet, PAQ has already received approval for a $750,000 grant from the federal government to make renovations, as well as a $ 250,000 grant for its operating budget, according to Donat Savoie. He adds that this subsidy is conditional on the signing of a lease for a period of five years, which PAQ do not seem able to conclude.
At the same time, the Native Friendship Center, located at the corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Ontario Street, is also undergoing a major crisis. The day center, which primarily provides front-line services to Aboriginal homeless people, is no longer a member of the Regroupement des centers d’amitié autochtone du Québec, which, among other missions, offers family-oriented services. . The Native Friendship Center is therefore deprived of two grants from the federal government. «There are 17,000 aboriginals in Montreal, and not all of them are homeless», says Édith Cloutier, to explain the direction of the Regroupement des centers d’amitié autochtone du Québec. It is still less of a resource for Aboriginal homeless people in Montreal.
According to Eric Cardinal, who works as a project manager for an Aboriginal artistic, cultural and community site in Montreal, the Montreal Native Friendship Center still hopes to recover some of the subsidies that have been used to date to provide front line to Aboriginal homeless.
«There are people trying to mediate so that money is not lost», he says. Everyone agrees on recognizing the need for resources with Montreal’s homeless population. «In a city like Ottawa, there are two Native Friendship Centers. It could be done here too», he says.