Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Montreal May 16, 2017 - 8:30 am

Inuk case worker on the job again at Montreal shelter

Montreal study shows 10 per cent of homeless are Aboriginal, half of those Inuit

COURTNEY EDGAR
Chantale Verreault, left, the new Inuit caseworker at Chez Doris in Montreal, and Connie Kadlutsiak, who often uses services offered at the women's shelter, help to prepare a meal at the shelter May 12. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)
Chantale Verreault, left, the new Inuit caseworker at Chez Doris in Montreal, and Connie Kadlutsiak, who often uses services offered at the women's shelter, help to prepare a meal at the shelter May 12. (PHOTO BY COURTNEY EDGAR)

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MONTREAL—The Arctic char was out on trays on the counter, while Chantale Verreault poured out flour for the bannock with the help of one of her clients.

The weekly Inuit collective kitchen at Montreal’s Chez Doris women’s shelter, a special community event held each Friday, followed a reading and writing workshop May 12 as well as a clothing drive.

Two other women sat at the table, waiting for others to arrive. On a typical Friday, between seven and 20 women come to share this Inuit meal at the day centre.

Last week was the first opportunity for Verreault to attend those various events.

Verreault, who comes from Kangirsuk, is Chez Doris’ new full time Inuit case worker, a position that’s been vacant for about seven months.

Inuit women depend on the services at Chez Doris—which offers a respite room to rest during the day after a rough night on the streets or in poor living conditions, paperwork help for financial aid and housing, sewing and craft workshops to help women earn a little extra money.

That means Verreault’s job is a crucial one.

Since 2011, Makivik Corp, has provided funding for an Inuit case worker whose duties include identifying and addressing the medical, social and housing needs of Inuit women in Montreal.

Not only does Verreault speak Inuktitut, but she also uses Inuit values and traditions to create a safe space for the women to gather and reconnect with each other and their culture.

When Verreault applied for the position, she knew it was the perfect fit.

“I wanted to be useful and help my people,” Verreault said.

Although Verreault isn’t trained as a social worker, she has work experience as a youth animator for students, with a focus on suicide prevention, and she had excellent references in her other jobs as a hotel manager and in a hospital. The staff at Chez Doris will train her on the social work specifics.

“It’s close to impossible to find Inuit who are trained in social work,” said Marina Boulos-Winton, the executive director of Chez Doris.

“There are only 60,000 Inuit in all of Canada so to find that needle in the haystack, you know, somebody willing to work with a clientele that has a lot of hardship—the stories that they tell you make your hair stand on end. It really takes a person with nerves of steel, and someone who is also reliable. And someone who is able to work as a team, with the rest of the staff.”

According to Boulos-Winton, interviewing people for the position was an eye-opening experience, since most of the applicants lacked not only the formal education but even a high school diploma. Most of their work experience was janitorial services, babysitting and working in mines.

“We are seeing that they’re starting to go to [colleges] now, but we have to wait a few years to get the ones who have the training,” Boulos-Winton said. “We did get interpreters who had studied at McGill, but they were paid enormously well, and we just couldn’t compete with what they could be paid elsewhere.”

In the last three years, the number of women who visit Chez Doris has nearly tripled—265 in 2016-17, up from 93 in 2013-14. Of that 265, Inuit women represent 17 per cent of their clientele.

“In the latest count in Montreal that was done by the city of Montreal, 10 per cent of homelessness in Montreal is Aboriginal,” said Sylvie Cornez, a consultant for Makivik Corp. which partners with Chez Doris.

“And of that 10 per cent, half of it is Inuit, an over-representation. But it indicates also the distress within the communities up north that live in overpopulation and lack of access to services in the North, so there is a lot of distress.

“The people that suffer the most—those that need mental health services—well, they come south. And they have a hard time maneuvering through the system and find themselves often in difficulty.”

Those challenges don’t phase Verreault. She said she wants to do more for Inuit women—from helping them get copies of birth certificates to walking them through the application process for a provincial health card and accompanying them to health appointments when necessary: She can speak their language and make sure there is no miscommunications or misunderstanding.

Verreault’s favourite part of the job is simply helping women with whatever they need and “just getting to know them.”

“I hope they know that I’m here to help them,” Verreault says.

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