Indigenous homeless people can stay in this Montreal house for as long as they want

The Maison Akhwà:tsire is located at 1025 rue Saint-Hubert Street.  (Mathias Marchal/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The Maison Akhwà:tsire is located at 1025 rue Saint-Hubert Street. (Mathias Marchal/Radio-Canada - image credit)

In downtown Montreal, 22 Indigenous people experiencing homelessness will now have access to subsidized permanent housing.

The Maison Akhwà:tsire (which means family in Kanien'kéha) officially opened its doors on Monday afternoon. Run by Projets Autochtones du Québec (PAQ), the house has been in the works since 2021.

"Thank you for allowing us to finally have a roof," said one of the residents during the opening ceremony.

For Heather Johnston, executive director of PAQ, the shelter represents reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

"This space will be able to accommodate people who have spent years, sometimes decades, on the streets and who live with intergenerational trauma," Johnston said in a news release. "They will now have a dignified and kind place to call home in a community where they are comfortable and safe."

Gabrielle Paul/Radio-Canada
Gabrielle Paul/Radio-Canada

Unlike homeless shelters, people can stay at the house for as long as they wish.

The 18-room accommodation will have a 24/7 response team with social workers and nurses. It's intended for people who have long experienced homelessness and who face many difficulties in finding housing, Johnston said.

PAQ works alongside the CLSC du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal as well as with the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) for its alcohol consumption management program.

Outdoor activities and cultural services, such as having an elder visit the house regularly, will be offered to residents to help reconnect with their language, Johnston said.

Gabrielle Paul/Radio-Canada
Gabrielle Paul/Radio-Canada

Ensuring that residents felt comfortable in the house was a priority, Johnston said.

"Why couldn't homeless Indigenous people have a nice place to live downtown?" she asked.

The organization hired Julia Hervieux, an Innu from Pessamit working for the firm Evoke to decorate the house. The building used to be a bed and breakfast, at 1025 rue Saint-Hubert Street, which PAQ acquired in 2021.

"We followed the logic of the seasons for the different rooms, and we looked for cultural elements of each nation so that everyone could feel at home here," Hervieux said.

A project uniting all governments

All levels of government have mobilized to respond to homelessness issues in Greater Montreal, said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller who is also an MP for the riding.

Gabrielle Paul/Radio-Canada
Gabrielle Paul/Radio-Canada

The federal government has provided $4.7 million under the Rapid Housing Initiative while the Quebec government is funding $1.6 million through the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the First Nations and Inuit Relations Secretariat.

For Montreal's part, the city will offer the PAQ social accompaniment and technical support.

"In terms of the Indigenous homeless population, there is a huge gap which isn't about to be filled, but [the Maison Akhwà:tsire] is a step forward," Miller said.