Addressing homelessness, one student at a time

Homelessness is a growing problem in Montreal, with more than half of Quebec’s homeless population living within the city’s limits. It is estimated that over 3,100 individuals are in need of shelter, food, and warm clothing. This does not account for the hidden homeless—those who are temporarily staying with family, friends, or in motels. With the cold, dreary winter underway, the city’s shelters are at full capacity, leaving these individuals and their families struggling to find a warm place to spend each night. 

Ending homelessness means addressing all the aspects of the issue, such as a lack of decent, affordable housing and adapted health care. Micheal Pearce, CEO of Old Brewery Mission, described how homelessness is more prevalent in marginalized communities. 

“[According to Montreal’s last homeless count,] an increasing number of women are experiencing homelessness,” Pearce said. “The results also showed that Indigenous people are disproportionately represented among Quebec’s homeless population.”  

This overrepresentation is highlighted within a survey conducted by Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services in 2018. The study found that despite making up only 2.3% of the Quebec population, 10.4% of the homeless population identifies as part of the Indigenous community.  Organizations like the Old Brewery Mission seek to alleviate the matter by providing specialized health programs, psychosocial counselling, and emergency services, while also working to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city. Additionally, the organization has conducted studies in partnership with McGill to better understand the phenomenon of homelessness. A recent Old Brewery Mission study based on the clients of the overflow shelter in the Old Royal Victoria Hospital last winter found deficiencies within Montreal’s network of shelters and community organizations. 

“The homeless men and women who participated in the study signalled many gaps in our city’s current service network,” Pearce said. “For example, […] we’re missing resources [specific to]  heavy substance users [that] services like a wet shelter would help [to get them] off the streets.” 

Similar projects in Montreal work toward the same goals of solving the underlying factors behind homelessness while ensuring that these individuals have access to basic resources. Sarah Sajedi, director of Angels of Mercy, explained that donations are important, making it possible for them to purchase items such as socks and underwear for those in need. Additionally, the non-profit serves hot meals and collects clothing and warm coat donations. Sajedi believes that giving back to the homeless instills a great deal of satisfaction in her volunteers. 

“Angels of Mercy is here to remind [the homeless] that somebody cares, […] but this also helps the volunteer community, [since] there are a lot of people who want to give, [… and]  know that we have way too much and waste too much,” Sajedi said. “This is our way of giving back to the community, but it is almost as if the homeless give back to us.” 

With school, extra-curriculars, and part time jobs, it is easy to get caught up in work and forget how lucky many McGill students are to have the most basic amenities at their disposal. By spending one weekend a month with a Montreal non-profit, an individual can help feed, clothe, and house thousands of Montreal citizens as well as better understand the factors behind homelessness. At Angels of Mercy, volunteers are asked to give at least two hours a month to the organization where they can help make and serve food.  For the Old Brewery Mission, students can take part in a fundraiser or coordinate with the organization to donate clothes, money, or time to support their community. 

“We must continue to work together as a community, rallying our respective networks to create a continuum of services for Montreal’s homeless men and women,” Pearce said. “All our efforts must be squarely focussed on ending chronic homelessness in Montreal [….] Anything less is unacceptable.” 

Students interested in volunteering at Angels of Mercy can fill out a volunteer form on their website, helpfeedthehomeless.org.

For those interested in helping the Old Brewery Mission organize an event, take part in a fundraiser, or serve dinner, check out their website missionoldbrewery.ca or send a message to their email, [email protected] for more information. 

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