January 31, 2018 3:51 pm
Updated: February 2, 2018 1:16 pm

Montreal shelter helps dying homeless

WATCH ABOVE: Paul Lortie was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and ended up at La Maison du Père after losing his job and home. He was surprised to find out about the shelter's palliative care unit, adding he's thankful to know it's there, should he one day need to use it.


Two-and-a-half years ago, Paul Marc Edouard Lortie’s life took a turn for the worse.

“I discovered I had Stage 4 cancer: colon, liver, lung and bone,” he said.

READ MORE: Montreal shelter to offer palliative care services to the homeless

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The 68-year-old had originally checked into the Lakeshore General Hospital, on Montreal’s West Island, for a hernia operation. That’s when doctors discovered cancer.

“I kind of went, ‘huh’ and then things kind of fell off the wagon,” he told Global News.

The Pointe-Claire resident had to start chemotherapy and was unable to hold onto his job at Home Depot.

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At the same time, his roommate was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and moved out.

“I couldn’t afford the rent, so I wound up at la Maison du Père. I needed a stable place to stay while I was doing chemo[therapy],” he explained.

He said he was surprised to find out about the shelter’s palliative care unit, adding he’s thankful to know it’s there — should he one day need to use it.

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“There are palliative care units around Montreal, but if you’re homeless or you’ve been living in this area for 20, 30 years, all your friends are here,” he said.

“It’s kind of like home, it’s comfortable and for palliative care that’s what you want to be.”

The palliative care program launched about a year ago, with five men already benefiting from the service.

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“We’ve had quite a few participants — not as much as we thought, so we’re kind of happy about that,” said François Boissy, the organization’s president director-general.

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He explained starting the unit was important because La Maison would look after men during their lives and after their deaths — planning up to 35 funerals a year — but there was no program in place for end-of-life care.

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“A doctor would give them a diagnosis of end of life and there’s no hope, we were not able at one point to take care of them, so they would pass away at the hospital or a palliative care unit,” Boissy told Global News.

“What we wanted to do was hold their hand and make sure nobody passed away alone.”

The shelter takes care of hundreds of homeless men, including 88 elderly men who have permanent residence at la Maison.

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“We become their family at one point. We’re their home, we’re their family,” Boissy said.

There’s a slim chance Lortie will ever find himself in remission.

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“I’m an up[beat] person to begin with. Everybody looks at a glass and says ‘half empty,’ I will automatically go, ‘half full,'” he said.

“I got my head around the fact that no, I will not be able to live my life the way I want to live it. As long as you keep your spirits up, I believe the term is, ‘the world’s your oyster.'”

READ MORE: Addressing the issue of homelessness on Montreal’s West Island

Nevertheless, he insists he’s not afraid for the future.

“I’ve come to terms with the fact that you’re born owing God a death. He’ll collect one day or another,” he said.

The cost of care

The program, Boissy admits, is expensive.

It costs about $8,000 per person for health services during the last 15 days of life.

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Other expenses, such as nursing, food and lodging are absorbed by the organization, bringing the total costs to just over $10,000 a person.

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La Maison said it has been in talks with the provincial government to get any sort of funding for its services — about $700,000 a year for general health services, not including the palliative care unit.

“It’s a long project with the government, yes,” Boissy admitted.

“We just want this service to have a long life, to be there as long as we can afford it and to make sure that it is available.”


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