Chez Doris to provide beds, 24h services for homeless women in Montreal

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Chez Doris, normally a day centre for homeless and vulnerable women, is expanding its services to offer beds and overnight warming stations to women starting Dec. 1.

In all, 18 beds and 16 rest chairs will be available until March 31, 2021. Places must be reserved in advance, either by phone or in person, at 3 p.m.

In order to keep their place, women will have to be on site by 8 p.m. or their spot will be given to someone on a waiting list. Women wishing to use the warming station must arrive before 10 p.m.

Marina Boulos-Winton, executive director of Chez Doris, explained that the centre is not set up as a shelter and isn't equipped to accept walk-ins all night long.

She said the increased demand for services is connected to the pandemic red zone restrictions.

"The extent of homelessness has been really hidden because you have a lot of couch surfers who can't couch surf anymore, because people are isolating and they don't want somebody who has been all over the city, or in contact with other people, bringing possibly the virus to their home," she said.

Boulos-Winton said that in the early days of the pandemic, when many services for the homeless closed abruptly, homeless women had nowhere to turn.

"What women were doing to stay safe [was] riding the subways all day long," she told CBC's Let's Go.

In July, Chez Doris started staying open later and offering three meals a day to women in the downtown area.

She said with the winter approaching, many women have fewer options to get warm since many public places are closed.

"In the summer maybe you could get away with sitting at McDonalds all day long, or another 24-hour coffee shop," she said. "In the colder months, there's really nowhere to hide, especially during a red zone."

In addition to the demand caused by the pandemic, staff at Chez Doris noted a clear increase in drug overdoses and violence toward homeless women, especially Indigenous women.

Boulos-Winton said they also heard from partners at Indigenous organization Makivik that there was "a rash of Indigenous women dying who sleep outside."

She said if they can secure the funding, the overnight measures may be extended beyond March 31.

Following a private donation of $1 million, Chez Doris was able to buy a residential building not far from its existing location on Chomedey Street.

However, it's taken two years to raise the money to turn it into a shelter. Now, Boulos-Winton said construction will begin on the second site by January.

To reserve a bed at Chez Doris, women can call 514-937-2341 ext 252 or come in person at 3 p.m. Women must be on site by 8 p.m. or they will lose their spot and it will be given to someone on a waiting list.