Two of the largest and oldest Montreal homeless shelters are revolutionizing the way we think about homelessness. The Mission Old Brewery and the Welcome Hall Mission have a combined 253 years of experience sheltering and caring for Montreal's homeless population. From food banks to mental health services, both missions are leading the charge with actions to address the issue and its causes.

While there are plenty of resources available, many organizations, unfortunately, don't have the infrastructure to accomplish their goals.

In 2018, there were 3,149 documented homeless people in Montreal and it's likely that number has grown since then. Despite efforts, growing homelessness in Montreal has presented distinct challenges for charities and shelters. 

One of the most pressing is the changing face of homelessness. With more individuals requiring specialized care services, the Mission Old Brewery and the Welcome Hall Mission have created programs to specifically address the intersectional issues that compound obstacles for people living in the streets or in impermanent shelters.

MTL Blog spoke with Chelsea Dufort, the Communications Advisor at the Welcome Hall Mission and Matthew Pearce, CEO of the Mission Old Brewery to discuss how their work meets these challenges and how Montrealers can help.

Their responses were surprising.

Donations

Even Montreal's two oldest shelters couldn't survive without donations. For both organizations, monetary gifts and volunteering are the keys to their success. 

"What we always say at the Mission is that we have the resources and the warehouse capacity to turn a monetary donation into sometimes double or triple the value," said Dufort. 

Pearce agrees because organizations like the Old Brewery and Welcome Hall have the best available resources to make every dollar count.

"The best way to support an organization like ours is with a cash donation because we can filter those funds to where we think the need is the greatest," he asserted.

Dufort adds that "if you really want to help any not-for-profit, we recommend giving your time or money. Really, those are going to add the greatest value to any non-profit."

When it comes to physical donations, Pearce and Dufort agree that its best if people think outside the box. 

"We're getting clothing in such volume that we can't manage it all. That just shows the generosity of Montrealers. We're grateful, to be sure, but we don't really need that anymore," said Pearce.  

"The kinds of things that people don't often think of is hygiene products in travel sizes. Things like toothpaste, shaving cream, soap. Another thing that people don't often think of is public transport tickets or things like gift cards for restaurants, cafes, or grocery stores." 

For organizations like Welcome Hall Mission, which are more of a food bank than an actual shelter, public food donations have the opposite intended effect. 

"We work hand in hand with grocery stores in the city to recoup food. Our CEO says that there's more than enough food in Montreal, as long as you recuperate it," explained Dufort.

"So, for someone to go out of their way to buy food for the hungry, it's kind of a waste because there's more than enough food to go around."

"We never want to dissuade people from being nice and donating food and blankets to the homeless but the reality is, if you believe that it's unacceptable for somebody to be on the streets, you shouldn't make it easier for them. You shouldn't be giving them a blanket to make it more comfortable for them to live on the street," she said. 

Transforming How We Think About & Approach Homelessness

Instead of a bandaid, the Mission Old Brewery and the Welcome Hall Mission offer tangible solutions to get people off the street. 

For both organizations, it's about getting people permanently out of a bad situation and bolstering their dignity.

The Welcome Hall, for instance, has brought a whole new meaning and image to food banks. Instead of a bread line, visitors have a full-fledged grocery shopping experience.

"Organizations like ours are changing the status quo and rethinking the way that we do things," said Dufort. 

"We don't just hand people a box of food and say 'here you go.' People actually have a chance to have a grocery shopping experience, with a cart and a free checkout which we believe is a more dignified experience."

Meanwhile, at the Mission Old Brewery, Pearce and his colleagues are tackling the problem of social housing in a big way. 

"If we don't give people an exit out of homelessness, then we're part of the problem," said Pearce. 

The Mission Old Brewery has seen incredible success in Montreal, but for Pearce, the organization had to take a serious look at the way they do things. For too long, he explains, the Mission was complacent.

"There wasn't a sense that we needed to change anything because the public loved our work. So, we set on a course of change going about solving homelessness and not just soothing it," he said. 

"I'm proud to say that social housing is now one of the Old Brewery Mission's biggest initiatives. We want people to feel that we're not just going to caretake them, we'll accompany them to something better and beyond being homeless."

The Intersectionality Of Homelessness & New Challenges

Strategies to discuss and address homelessness are becoming more and more intersectional. 

People with different cultural backgrounds or addiction issues might not have an adequate support system. The Mission Old Brewery aims to become that resource.

"What we are finding is that there's an alarming growth in Indigenous homelessness in Montreal, especially in the Inuit population. The resources available to that population are lacking and the general service offerings are not adapted to their cultural perspective and needs," said Pearce. 

"We have to seriously think about how to better address this population. At the Mission, we're working with the Project Autochtones de Quebec to help identify and work with the Indigenous homeless population, provide them with housing and support their unique needs."

A common misconception is that people with addiction issues don't go to shelters because they would be exposed to drugs and alcohol, a misconception that Pearce says is completely false. 

"I know that one of the main reasons people don't come to the shelter is because you can't consume alcohol or drugs. People who are addicted and need to use, simply can't go in," explained Pearce.  

"I think the city and the province need to understand that there's a solution for everyone living in homelessness. There's always something better for them. We know there are solutions out there. Let's get on it and figure this problem out." 

 

"Homelessness still suffers from stigmas that people have about what and who a homeless person is and what degree of hope we have for this population. I feel that many people think that once you're locked into homelessness, you have no future," said Pearce. 

Organizations like the Mission Old Brewery and the Welcome Hall Mission play a huge part in helping people experiencing homelessness in Montreal, but it takes a combined effort from everyone to truly affect change. 

"We're not perfect and we're continually self-critical. You know, when people say we're amazing now, we thank them, but we can do so much more. We're proud of what we're doing but we think we can do much better," said Pearce. 

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