The West Island’s first-ever homeless shelter is set to open this winter, a much-needed resource for what many community leaders refer to as the invisible population.
“There’s big houses and boats and nice cars and there is all of that, but mixed in with that there are pockets around the West Island where there’s poverty,” said On Rock Community Services president Kim Reid.
Unlike downtown Montreal, where urban campsites are a constant visual reminder of the city’s homeless, the West Island’s homeless population is much less visible — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
“We know that at least 10-15 person(s)are sleeping outside right now in the West Island, but there’s as many as 50 of them moving around and looking for a place to stay each night,” said Tania Charron, executive director of Action Jeunesse de l’Ouest-de-l’Île (AJOI).
The City of Montreal and the regional health authority, CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, has granted $200,000 to Action Jeunesse de l’Ouest-de-l’Île (AJOI) to run the winter shelter, according Charron.
“We are grateful for this funding,” she said. “We think it’s more than time to recognize the needs and the hard work that is being done in the west island for vulnerable people. Everyone has their rights to dignity and we are super proud to provide a safe place to people that will need it this winter”
The community group, AJOI, has served homeless in the West Island since 2007. It has campaigned multiple times for added resources for those struggling with homelessness or housing instability in the west.
Seven days a week, “we’re going to be able to welcome 10-15 people during the night from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and we will have five emergency beds,” said Charron.
The adult-only shelter is to provide a safe shelter for homeless people during the cold winter from Dec. 1 to March 31.
AJOI outreach workers will be on site at the shelter and hot coffee and food will be provided, as well as a shuttle service.
The exact location of the temporary shelter has yet to be determined, however. Charron said AJOI is looking at about 10 possible sites in Lachine and Pierrefonds.
“Homelessness was always a problem in the outskirts of downtown but now finally for the winter measures we’ll have options,” said Benoît Langevin, the Official Opposition on Homelessness.
For the official opposition it was time something be done to address the homeless situation, but Langevin questions the effectiveness of just one temporary shelter and calls for more resources to be provided.
“I still think that the West Island, especially in the north side where there’s more density and more pockets of poverty, there should definitely be an answer there as well,” he said.
Previously, homeless people in the West Island who needed a place to stay would be taken downtown. Community leaders claim it will ease the pressure on the already overflowing homeless shelters downtown and keep West Island residents in the community.
“The need for a shelter on the West Island is to keep West Island people in the West Island and try and find them resources that are going to keep them in their neighbourhood,” said Reid.
Plans are still in the development stage, but Charron said they will most likely partner with other West Island organizations for the historical project.