Montreal heritage building being made into housing for Indigenous women and their kids

·3 min read
Montreal heritage building being made into housing for Indigenous women and their kids

When Indigenous women come to Montreal, it's usually in search of something they can't find in their community — like education or a career, says the director of the Native Women's Shelter.

"We find that a lot of the women fall through the cracks and end up on the streets," said Nakuset.

She says they need a "secure platform" to develop a career and "make their dreams come true" and that's why a transitional housing complex is under construction in the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy.

The project, which is expected to cost more than $12 million, will transform an old public bathhouse into 23 affordable housing units for women and their children. The women will get support as they live in one of the units for up to three years, Nakuset said.

This is in addition to the 16 housing units already offered by the group Foyer pour femmes autochtones de Montréal.

Intervention teams will spend time in the two facilities, helping to "maximize the chances of success of their socio-professional reintegration," the city of Montreal said in a statement Monday.

Those teams will offer individual support and follow-ups, as well as group workshops and activities.

Montreal covers half the cost

Montreal is chipping in about $6 million from various budgets, investing in the renovation and decontamination of a heritage building, formerly known as the Bain Hushion. The building, located in the Sud-Ouest borough, was built in 1914.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says the new home is another step toward reconciliation in the city.

"The city of Montreal is raising its hand saying 'We will help you guys' within our capacity," said Plante, noting Indigenous affairs are generally up to the federal and provincial governments.

WATCH | Nakuset explains why the investment is important:

The Quebec government is also investing $7 million in the project.

Richard Campeau, the provincial MNA for Bourget riding, where the building is located, said these initiatives are important to help lift Indigenous women out of precarious living situations.

He said he is sure that Nakuset and her team will play a key role in building the confidence of women who stay in the building.

Furnished apartments, community room

Nakuset said the project has been in the making for 10 years and now, with construction already underway, there will be 12 units resembling a typical three-and-a-half apartment (one bedroom apartment) in Montreal. There will also be four- and five-and-a-half units, with two or three bedrooms.

"We have created a special room on the main floor that will be a communal room," said Nakuset.

And even though each fully furnished apartment will have a kitchen, there will also be a communal kitchen for activities and workshops.

Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada
Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada

The housing will also provide services to the children of these women, to ensure that families, if separated by social services, are brought back together, Nakuset said.

Nakuset says that she hopes that bringing all of the resources that Indigenous women in Montreal need under one roof will help break the cycle of generational trauma. She says the central location is crucial.

"If you have a file with Batshaw (youth protection services), well that's just up the street," she said.

"If you want an education, if you want to go to university, it's right here. The organizations are around here so it's really key."

The housing project is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022.