A venture based in the basement of an Anglican church in downtown Montreal is reaching out to the homeless in a nearby Metro (or subway) station.
Organizers believe the co-operative program, which involves business, social agencies, the Montreal police, the transit network, benevolent medical groups, universities and others, is without precedent in North America.
Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum and Bishop Barry Clarke of the Anglican diocese of Montreal were among dignitaries on hand Dec. 17 for a press conference in St. Michael’s Mission, which operates a soup kitchen and day centre for men and some women, many of them homeless and struggling with mental illness and other problems.
The mission is in the basement of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, a landmark next to the city’s booming Quartier des Spectacles entertainment district and near the Place des Arts concert complex. It’s also right next to the Metro Place des Arts, where homeless people seek refuge from the elements and some experience medical crises.
The “service point for the homeless downtown” was conceived and is being funded by the Societe de developement social de Ville-Marie, which describes itself as the first “social broker” of its kind in North America.
Damien Siles, chief executive officer of the SDSVM, said the project will enable St. Michael’s Mission, which has operated for 85 years, to reposition itself to become a one-of-a kind day centre offering services to meet the growing medical needs of more than 200 persons every day. He also said that the project will be expanded to at least a couple of other Metro stations.
Two mornings a week, Caitlin Murphy, crisis worker at the day centre, visits the Metro Place des Arts looking for men and women in acute distress-many of whom she recognizes as regulars at the mission. She invites them back to the mission for food, emergency clothing and other services it offers but also for new services, including those of a doctor and nurse in a new examining room.
There are also staff with special qualifications to help Inuit, a significant group among those who visit the centre.
“A better access for vulnerable people, often homeless, to complete care that integrates mental health and substance abuse is important, with strong partnerships between the first-line community agencies and psychiatric hospitals,” said Dr. Didier Jutras Aswad, assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry, at the Universite de Montreal.
“This is the most exciting project yet for St. Michael’s Mission,” said George Greene, acting director of the mission. While the mission continues to feed the hungry, “what we really have to start doing feeds the soul” through a broader range of counselling and other services. “This is one-stop shopping.”
Harvey Shepherd is the editor of The Montreal Anglican.