Café Mission Keurig: A day at a coffeehouse for Montreal’s homeless

It’s only 9 a.m. on Friday Sept. 8, and the Café Mission Keurig is already buzzing just one hour after opening for the day. The entrance swings open to let in the morning’s patrons and the crisp St-Laurent air. Every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the café, one of the Old Brewery Mission’s (OBM) support services geared towards the homeless, welcomes close to 150 people. Some enjoy free coffee and take advantage of the internet access to browse YouTube and Facebook, or peruse the news online. Others use the space to rest, oblivious to the comings and goings of visitors, the background garble of the television, and the hum of conversation. The café is so busy that by 10 a.m., the milk and lunchboxes—apple slices and a bagel today—have all run out. Yet, the 8th of the month is not the café’s peak period. Visitors describe a microcosmic environment where, over the course of a month, the clientele’s behaviour mimics the cyclical nature of the seasons. During the first week, when welfare cheques come in, the café’s clientele experiences a period of abundance. They have access to funds to pay for food or cigarettes, and consequently have less need for the café’s free indoor services. As the month progresses and their finances dwindle, they find refuge inside the coffeehouse. By the end of the cycle, the space can become cramped and the visitors boisterous, either out of frustration with the crowd or, in some cases, because they have sold their medication. When a new month dawns, the cycle begins once again. One of the café’s earliest visitors, David, lives at the shelter on the second floor of the OBM’s Webster Pavilion, attached to the café. He visits most days, where he has a coffee and spends some time on the computers to jump-start his mornings. What really keeps him coming back, though, is the sense of community. “He’s been coming here for four years,” David said, pointing out a man to his right. “And he’s been here the same time I have, since 2001,” he said pointing at another gentleman sitting at the table behind him. “You have all these people rallying around you like a family.” Sabrina has been working at the OBM for a month. She works two day shifts and two night shifts per week and occasionally comes in upon special request—all this on top of her schoolwork as a second year student in sexology at UQÀM. Before starting university, she worked at a shelter on the South Shore, which then led her to seek out similar employment from the OBM. Most of her work takes place in the adjacent Webster Pavilion’s housing facilities—making rounds, answering questions, resolving issues, and filling out paperwork. Today is only her second time at the café. “It’s comforting to be able to answer to a basic need and on a larger scale than just the people who sleep here. Anyone can come here,” Sabrina said. “I love intervention and counselling, I find it very nourishing.” Julien (left) and Dominic (right), two café patrons, sit facing one another reading the newspaper and talking softly. Neither is a frequent visitor; today is Julien’s first visit at the café and Dominic doesn’t come very often as it’s not easy for him to travel from Berri-UQÀM, where he spends most of his days. They both have different reasons for coming in: For Julien, it was better than sitting out in the cold; for Dominic, the café is a good place to meet up with friends and have a cup of coffee. John arrived in the early afternoon to drink a cup of coffee after a free barbecue lunch at the Accueil Bonneau, another local facility for the needy. The café is his afternoon stopover on his usual route. “I make a round, this is my coffee shop where I meet my friends,” John said. “I live in [rent-controlled housing], it’s a building for old farts really. But this place… this place has a story. It’s a social club as well as a real humbling experience. It’s not [just] a place, it’s a home, it’s my sanctuary.” For five years, John struggled with addiction and lived in a crack house without a stove to prepare his food. When the building was sealed off due to its degradation, its inhabitants were evicted. John immediately accepted a placement offer at a social housing facility downtown, seeing it as an opportunity for a fresh start. He started using the services offered to the homeless and needy, and found employment through the Accueil Bonneau’s “Miel de Bonneau” program. He credits these institutions and the people who run them with helping him stay active and engaged with the Montreal community. “A wave of really bad shit would hit the streets if it weren’t for places like this,” John said. John describes the café’s mission as critical. He has never lived on the street, but to him one’s living situation doesn’t matter inside the café. “In the end, we’re all coming in here from the sidewalk,” John explained.

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