Montreal aboriginal shelter staff recall happier times
About half of clients at shelter facing closure are Inuit
MONTREAL — Earlier this month, a sealing group from Quebec’s Magdalen Islands donated 50 pounds of seal meat to Projets Autochtones du Québec.
To celebrate the gift, the PAQ, the non-profit organization that runs Montreal’s only aboriginal homeless shelter, put on a traditional feast for its clients — many who grew up eating seal meat.
An Inuk elder blessed the meal and throat singers entertained the crowd.
The event brought back memories of happier times for the centre’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis clientele, said PAQ’s director, Adrienne Campbell.
That meant a lot to the centre’s Inuit clients, who make up roughly half of the shelter’s nightly users, she said.
“When people leave the North, there’s a culture shock that happens and we try to provide them with a sense of belonging,” Campbell said. “There’s a sense of community and you can feel that here.”
But events like that feast could be a thing of the past if the shelter is forced to close its doors at the end of June.
That’s when the Montreal Health Authority, which owns the building, may be forced to leave to make room for new office space.
The PAQ has spent the last 18 months looking for new location — without success.
That leaves the shelter’s future in limbo.
Campbell said the PAQ faces a problem similar to what Nunavik health and social services officials experienced when they tried to move a patient boarding home into the Montreal borough of Villeray.
The Villeray borough mayor objected to a patient boarding home in that borough, saying it could bring unwanted crime and social problems to neighbourhood.
“No one’s come out and said it, but no one wants an aboriginal shelter in their borough,” Campbell said. “But if the PAQ ceases to exist, this becomes the city’s problem.”
The PAQ shelter, housed in a brick building on De La Gauchetière Street, offers nightly meals, laundry, showers and internet, as well as 40 shelter beds for both men and women.
The shelter sees about 300 regular clients over the course of a full year.
Four years ago, Campbell said the majority of those clients were First Nations people.
But today, about half are Inuit men.
“Inuit homelessness is becoming a huge problem in Montreal,” Campbell said. “People come here from the North thinking the city will offer them more than what they had.
“So they end up here and life on the streets eventually catches up with them.”
To provide her clients with the best support possible, Campbell hopes to open the centre during the daytime and offer culturally relevant healing programs.
Campbell is also working with Makivvik Corp., which is prepared to fund the position of an in-house Inuit case worker.
“We work well with Makivvik and they give us huge support,” she said. “But none of this can happen until we know we have a place to stay.”