Kwe 55 gets official inauguration

The KWE 55 social-housing project that took over the former Rustik motel in Chateauguay, and began housing at-risk members of the community last year was officially inaugurated Friday afternoon.

The former motel was converted into social-housing apartments with a minimum of five units being reserved for Kahnawa’kehró:non. KWE 55 represents an opportunity to help those community members and put them in a healthy, culturally-safe living environment.

The project kicked off in 2021. As part of the project, a social worker trained in culturally-sensitive care is always on duty to support residents, who may be dealing with addictions, mental illness or other conditions that leave them on the margins of society.

“It was a real collective effort that created an interesting living environment for the occupants in a very short space of time,” said FROHME project manager Martin Becotte. “It was a very, let’s say, interesting renovation. Part of the building was built in the 1940s and other parts in the 60s and 70s. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in the house while you’re renovating a kitchen, but this was like that, times a hundred.”

In fact, Kahnawake Shakotiia'takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) Addictions and Mental Wellness Manager Alana Kane said they were already looking toward an expansion of the project, with rumblings of a move to convert the adjacent former Rustik restaurant into some sort of community kitchen, food bank or a combination of both.

“That’s the word on the street,” Kane said. “There are some ideas floating around here and there that might be able to use that space for some kind of community kitchen of sorts or food-security project, like Meals on Wheels. It’s still in the very preliminary phase right now.”

The project was funded with both federal and provincial funding and cost about $7.5 million to complete, Becotte said.

The salary of the social workers assigned to the project is being covered by the CISSS-Monteregie-Ouest.

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Executive Operations Officer Alan John Rice was also on hand and marvelled at the progress that has been made since the project was first announced in 2022.

“I remember the initial press conference when it was announced. I’m so happy to be here and see how this project has turned out,” he said. Rice – who was a member of the MCK back then. “It’s clear that many issues affect both First Nations and Canadians and housing is one of those. We hope to collaborate more in the future.”

The 31-room facility also features a laundry room and a common room for residents to congregate and socialize, with a television and seating available daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

FROHME General Manager Ivelina Nikolova confirmed the agency was in the process of looking into the adjacent former restaurant.

“We’ve already been thinking about how KWE 55 could meet other needs,” she said. “For example, with the building’s kitchen and former restaurant, which could become a place of exchange between the communities and support more people.”

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase