Struggling to keep up with an increasing number of unhoused women with substance abuse and mental health challenges, Chez Doris, a Montreal women's shelter, announced today it will be suspending some of its day shelter frontline services for at least two months so it can hire and train new staff.
"We decided to take a break at the request of our employees," said Marina Boulos-Winton, the shelter's executive director.
"There are a lot more psychiatric problems, a lot more drug addictions. We just need to take a pause, and take a breather, reset and restart our services properly," she said, adding that there have also been incidents where women have turned violent against staff.
Chez Doris is not alone in seeing its ability to help become strained and other organizations in the city fear that the decision to temporarily suspend its services will have a ripple effect on them, perhaps pushing them closer to the brink.
One of the big cutbacks will be the stopping daytime meal services.
Boulos-Winton says the day shelter now helps about 1,500 women a year, since homelessness increased with the pandemic, meaning they now feed more mouths than before.
Access to day beds and caseworkers will also temporarily be suspended, but the shelter will continue to provide access to mail, medication, emergency clothing and hygiene products. Night services – including suppers – will also be maintained.
"The difference between now and before is that 60 per cent of our clientele is homeless. Before 20 per cent of the clientele was homeless," said Boulos-Winton."There is a lot more homelessness than before and the problems psychiatric and addiction are extremely serious."
"It's not at all a question of financing. We're in a labour shortage, and it affects community organizations."
As part of its retooling, the shelter is looking to hire at least 24 to 28 new employees and train them all at once, said Boulos-Winton. Currently, about 50 people work at Chez Doris, and she says that number needs to be closer to 90.
Over the next two months, the shelter will undergo renovations to bring the building up to code, she said. Chez Doris will also be implementing clearer rules to curb violence against staff and provide specialized training for its workers, said Boulos-Winton.
Last week, the province reported that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Quebec had almost doubled between 2018 and 2022.
In 2018, the first provincewide survey in Quebec's history on homelessness was conducted. It found a total of 5,789 people who were "visibly" homeless.
In 2022, that number jumped to 10,000. Nearly half of those people, 4,690, were living in Montreal.
David Chapman, the executive director of Resilience Montreal, says Chez Doris temporarily suspending certain services means that more people will flock to his shelter which is already stretched beyond its means and facing 'skyrocketing' costs. (Paula Dayan-Perez)
David Chapman, the executive director of Resilience Montreal, says Chez Doris's temporary cutbacks mean that more people will flock to his shelter.
"Our average monthly meal service two months ago was 275 meals per service … and what we have seen in just two months is an increase of 275 to 450. Unfortunately, that's a lot of food and labour unaccounted for in your budget," said Chapman.
Despite "skyrocketing" costs, he says Resilience Montreal will continue to work at full capacity but will also need immediate assistance from the government.
"Our clientele is at risk of starving. Resilience Montreal needs an additional $1 million for food costs and services," said Nakuset, co-founder of Resilience Montreal and executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal.
She told CBC Montreal that last week's meeting of Quebec mayors to discuss homelessness failed to deliver on action.
"There are no concrete steps being taken and the lack of action is dangerous," she said.
Sam Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, says organizations that help unhoused Montrealers across the city are in a precarious state and stretched beyond their means.
"The whole ecosystem is very fragile, and so when you have one organization that is unable to keep up with the need … then it creates an overflow and a ripple effect that touches every other organization."
According to Watts, the Welcome Hall Mission has seen about a 30 per cent increase in the number of people asking for help in the past year. At the same time, he says the profile of the people in need is becoming increasingly complex and varied with compounding challenges that include medical, mental health, mobility, and addiction issues.
For Watts, homelessness is inseparable from the housing affordability crisis, adding that rent supplements are needed in the short term but building more housing units is what's needed to house people who don't have a place to call their own.
"The solution is housing. It's always housing, it's not to try and build more emergency services."
CBC requested comment from the Quebec Ministry of Social Services and the city of Montreal but did not hear back in time.