Montreal shelter gets support from Makivik Corp.
The Open Door sees its Inuit clientele on the rise
When the Open Door shelter lives up to its name each morning and opens its doors, a steady stream of clients are waiting for a place to put their heads down.
The Montreal day shelter, located in St. Stephen’s Anglican church in Westmount, quickly fills with tired people. They grab a pillow and blanket and use the church’s pews to catch a few hours of sleep.
About a third of the shelter’s clientele are Inuit, a percentage which staff there say is gradually rising.
The shelter also offers breakfast, a hot launch, a place to do laundry or use the computer or telephone.
“It’s a little different every day,” said Caleb Clark, the Open Door’s director. “Most of the action happens in the [church’s] sanctuary.”
The shelter does not discriminate – clients do not need to have identification, and they don’t have to be sober to use its services.
“We’re able to keep it relatively peaceful,” Clark said.
The Open Door used to operate Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays.
That’s until Clark starting chatting with the Inuit case worker at a nearby women’s shelter.
Annie Pisuktie, who used to work with Inuit women at the nearby Chez Doris day shelter, connected Clark with Makivik Corp, which funds a number of services to support homeless Inuit in Montreal.
“Annie was seeing so many Inuit men that had nowhere to go on Wednesdays,” he said.
With the support of Makivik, the Open Door now stays open five days a week. Makivik is also helping to fund a new assistant director position at the shelter.
“It’s be really influential on what we do here,” Clark said. “The person we’re looking at hiring has years of experience counselling people with addictions.”
Even with the addition of a new assistant director, only two full-time and one part-time staff work at the Open Door. The balance of its services are provided thanks to volunteers, like the shelter’s art and music therapy program, which Clark said is popular with Inuit clients.
“Through music, we see a lot of emotion and hardness come out,” he said. “It gives us a come to really talk to clients about what they’re experiencing.”
One Open Door volunteer who plays guitar for a regular singing group is even learning Inuktitut, Clark said, so she can sing along to many of the gospel hymns which Inuit clients like to sing.
Besides music therapy, Clark said Inuit who frequent the Open Door take most advantage of the shelter’s meals, free clothing and the chance to use the internet — a common way for them to stay in touch with relatives in the North.
Clark said the biggest challenge Inuit clients face is chronic substance abuse and the lack of available housing in Montreal, “even though a number of them left the North for the very same reason.”
“But, as much as a lot people don’t like to talk about it, there’s a lot of racism towards Inuit,” Clark said.
A common story from many Inuit clients is the difficulty securing housing, Clark said: “there is an assumption that they’re chronic substance users.”
And the local landscape is changing for many of the shelter’s clients who frequent Cabot Square, a nearby park that is popular with homeless in the area which is slated to close for major landscaping next month.
“A lot of our clients hang out there and they feel safe there,” Clark said. “The square is very open.”
“I’m expecting there to be more violent crime [once the park closes],” he added. “I think that its users will move to smaller parks and alleyways where there aren’t witnesses to make things stop. That’s my biggest concern.”
But Clark doesn’t anticipate the park’s closure will change much for the Open Door’s operations and the Inuit clientele it serves.
“English is predominate in this neighbourhood and clients who use English will stay here,” he said.