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Old Brewery Mission head announces retirement, plans to step down in September

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WATCH: Matthew Pearce is retiring as president and chief executive officer of the Old Brewery Mission. Global's Phil Carpenter has more on the story. – Jul 30, 2020

Just weeks after being awarded the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross for his contribution to the cause of homelessness in Canada, Matthew Pearce has announced he’s retiring as president and chief executive officer of the Old Brewery Mission.

He leaves at the end of September.

Pearce is leaving an organization that supports homeless people at a time when access to affordable housing, advocates say, is at crisis levels.

In spite of those challenges, Pearce says he can leave with his head held high because of the positive changes he’s seen.

One of them is the shift in focus from just sheltering the homeless, to housing.

Read more: Montreal homeless advocates sound alarm as makeshift camps continue to appear around city

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“Affordable housing that is supported, being the primary objective,” he told Global News.

He said housing is now the biggest service at the Old Brewery, surpassing shelter beds.

The other positive change he points to is what he sees as a shift in public perception of what homelessness is.

“It’s not a place that you fall into and never get out of,” he insisted.  “Homeless people do not want to live on the streets.  It’s not a choice they’ve made.”

Pearce thinks the public is now more aware that homelessness is complex, but that there are solutions.  Now he thinks it’s time for someone else to take on those challenges.

“The person occupying this chair should be able to commit to the next several years, and I’m just not able to do that,” he explained.

Read more: Montreal races to create more shelters for homeless people amid coronavirus crisis

James Hughes, who served as director general at the Mission from 2004 until 2008, will take over from Pearce.  He credits the outgoing CEO with bringing about the positive changes and said they both share the same vision.

“Matthew Pearce and I, we wrote a book with others about the homelessness phenomenon across the country,” he said.

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“The problem is access to affordable housing.”

Sam Watts, chief executive officer and executive director of the Welcome Hall Mission, agrees that Pearce has been influential.

“Matthew is a North American recognized authority and thought leader in this whole area,” he pointed out.

“I think he has, in lots of good ways, pushed the envelope and brought out a lot of ideas that people are beginning to adopt.”

Pearce has been awarded numerous times for his work.  He turns 66 in September but says he still loves the mission and he’s available if they need him.

“Well, I’ve still got gas in the tank,” he laughed.

 

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