MONTREAL, QC–The pandemic has greatly changed the face of clients who visit shelters and other homelessness centres. For example, St. Michael’s Mission, which has been operating in downtown Montreal for 94 years, has seen a new profile added to that of its regular users.
“We now get people who can no longer pay their rent or who have lost their jobs,” explains Executive Director Chantal Laferrière. “They were already vulnerable before the pandemic, and the crisis and resulting isolation forced them onto the street.” A direct impact of this new reality is that the centre has stayed open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since December 1 due to the City of Montreal’s winter measures. It will keep these hours until March 31, 2022.
St. Michael’s Mission is notable as a low-threshold service organization that accepts intoxicated clients and accommodates animals. “Often, we are their only resource,” the Executive Director says. “We take in and support people who are highly intoxicated or struggling with mental health problems as we have the on-site expertise and resources to help clients in any situation.”
Innovative agreements with police, researchers, hospitals, and more
St. Michael’s Mission also stands out through supportive programs and partnerships for its clients. For example, the organization collaborates with the Centre de Recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CR-CHUM) and the HEPCO Cohort as part of medical research to help hard drug users.
Thanks to a partnership with the Clinique la Croix Verte, specialized physicians have created personalized protocols for clients at St. Michael’s Mission to help them wean off hard substances through drugs that are less harsh. Initiatives have also been deployed with the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) and its different units, including their Community Relations Officers, who take an innovative approach to intervention.
“By establishing these agreements, we have built up an extensive directory of multiple resources for people who come to the Mission. We can also share this information with other shelters that receive specific types of clients. Historically, we have all operated somewhat in silos. We now act as a go-between for them and other organizations, as the pandemic emergency has given rise to new challenges and issues.”
Lifting others (and yourself) up
Thanks to these measures, over a hundred people who use the organization’s services have found new dignity and a better life. Whether they go back to school, get a job, or leave the street for an apartment, they can find new meaning in their lives thanks to support at St. Michael’s Mission.
This small team of 11 people – and a few volunteers – have completely repositioned the centre from where it was years ago, when people associated it with violence and recurrent crime. “We went from the worst centre in Montreal to the ‘coolest’!” explained Chantal Laferrière.
St. Michael’s Mission’s reputation has become so positive that former users now volunteer there. One client even went from being a client to a volunteer and is now a staff member. “He symbolizes that you can overcome hardship when you want to change and get the help you need.”
Georges-Armand P., age 55, has been coming to the Mission for over 30 years. Until two years ago, he regularly used drugs and couldn’t work. After developing deeper connections with the Mission’s staff through their help and support, he felt his desire to make a difference grow. He became a volunteer and was offered a spot in a reintegration program. “We supported him every day in his desire to stop using. Step by step, he has shown that, with the right support, anything is possible.”
George is now an employee at the Mission and in regular contact with his family. “We are very proud of his desire to change and especially his openness to get support to maximize his chances of recovery.” When thanked for everything he does at the Mission and always with a smile – including delighting everyone with his piano playing! – George invariably replies that he is the one who should thank the Mission staff.
About St. Michael’s Mission
For 94 years, St. Michael’s Mission has been a warm and friendly refuge in the heart of Montreal that provides services to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the community. The Mission continues to provide two hot, nutritious meals per day as well as emergency food, clothing and psychosocial support. It also provides referrals to mental health consultants, addiction therapy and other services in the community.