One of the few religious emblems not present at a transitional shelter on Sainte-Gertrude Boulevard in the Montreal North borough is a photograph of Mother Teresa.
“Nope. I’m the Mother Teresa,” laughed Kicha Estimé.
That’s the nickname people have for her. She and her husband operate La Traverse, a transitional home for asylum seekers, mostly out of their own pockets. In the three years that she’s been in operation she’s seen people from across the globe.
“They come from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, USA,” she noted, adding that many travel through as many as 11 countries before arriving in Canada. Some have horror stories.
“They see dead people, dead children, they don’t eat.”
She has 27 residents now but the problem, according to her, is that she can’t take in everyone who comes knocking.
Roxham Road at Quebec’s border with the United States was closed last March, to help stem the number of people crossing into Canada from south of the border. That has not worked, Estimé and others observe.
“I don’t know where they go or where they pass, but they are still coming,” she told Global News.
Frantz André who also works with asylum seekers through his organization, Non-status Action Committee, says he’s seen even more asylum seekers arriving since Roxham Road closed.
“Strangely enough, a lot of them are coming with visa,” he pointed out.
In June, RCMP stopped just 36 people between official border points across Canada, compared to 4,994 in January. But the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) handled over 4,000 claims in June at airports, mostly in Quebec and Ontario, compared to more than 1,300 in January and just over 1,300 in June 2022.
Estimé says now she has to turn away between five and 10 people every day, and hers is the only shelter of its kind in Montreal North.
André stresses one of the problems is that there is a serious shortage of shelters and rent for an apartment is just too high.
“Finding an apartment today with whatever money they are getting from social services is almost impossible,” he said, noting that qualified individuals get less than $1,000 in social assistance monthly.
Estimé charges $400 monthly and most clients stay between one to three months until they get on their feet. She says if she had more cash she’d get a bigger place. They’re hosting an open house next Wednesday at 11891 Sainte-Gertrude Blvd., to help raise funds.
Until she gets help from the government she’ll continue to do what she can — and pray.
-With files from Canadian Press’ Morgan Lowrie
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