Homeless people around Montreal's Cabot Square, who outreach workers say face a worsening crisis following the Open Door shelter's move to a new location last year, will soon have services nearby once again.
Nakuset, the executive director of Native Women's Shelter in Montreal, confirmed Tuesday she has reached an agreement to open a new "wellness centre" across from the park, in a shuttered three-storey building on the corner of Atwater and Ste-Catherine streets.
The new centre, called Resilience Montreal, will provide food, showers, beds and social services to those in need. It has support from both the city and the province, Nakuset said.
The financial details haven't yet been announced, but the centre, in what was previously a Japanese restaurant and, before that, a McDonald's, is expected to open by next month.
It will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., to both men and women and provide three meals a day, Nakuset said.
"The staff that are going to be hired are going to have background in sexual assault and addiction. We'll have a psychologist that is going to be there, and we're also going to make sure that we're going to have a lot of community organizations coming through our doors," she said.
Open Door's relocation leaves gap in services
Nakuset said the centre was necessary after the Open Door relocated to Parc Avenue last year, leaving a glaring lack of services for homeless people in the west end of downtown Montreal.
Cabot Square has for years been a gathering place for Inuit and First Nations people in Montreal. Many of them came to Montreal for medical care and found themselves stuck here, without family and friends or other social supports.
In the past year, outreach workers, advocates and those who frequent the park say it has become increasingly unsafe. Grace Blacksmith, who frequents Cabot Square, said a new centre will be a big help.
"I'm very happy because we really did need a place like that around here. Not just for us females but like, the guys out here, they're struggling, too — so to have this place open is very exciting," she said.
As many as 14 people have died in the area since the Open Door moved, including as recently as last month.
"When the Open Door left, there was nothing for them to access," Nakuset said.
"It almost felt like we were taking 10 steps backwards. I couldn't believe that no one was doing anything."
In the shadow of new condos
The announcement comes as the neighbourhood undergoes a major transformation, with new luxury condominiums going up across the street from Cabot Square.
Another one of Resilience Montreal's backers, Sheila Woodhouse, the executive director of a non-profit called Nazareth Community, said she's hopeful other residents in the area will support the project.
"There's always concern because there's so many beautiful condos going up, but where's the social housing?" she asked.
"There are people sleeping outside. There's people unwell. There's been an increase of aggression," said Woodhouse. "It's not a healthy environment. It's a health crisis, actually."
Woodhouse said the new project, which has been in the works for months, has been a collaboration of several different organizations and all levels of government. Another non-profit group, Architecture Without Borders Quebec, is helping to design the new space.
"It's been an amazing project, and it's because of the Open Door closing."