Quebec LGBTQ helpline says it needs funding to keep operating 24/7

Amalan Thiyagarajah has been volunteering with Interligne for five years and sits on its board of directors. (CBC - image credit)
Amalan Thiyagarajah has been volunteering with Interligne for five years and sits on its board of directors. (CBC - image credit)

Amalan Thiyagarajah knows first-hand how much having someone listen to and understand you can help in times of crisis.

Thiyagarajah has been working with Interligne, a specialized helpline for those in the LGBTQ community in Quebec, for five years — and he's used the services himself. Calls range from people feeling lonely and isolated to more intense crises like suicidal ideology and panic attacks.

"In a lot of ways it's a life-saving raft when you're drifting in the ocean and you don't really know where to reach out for help," he said.

"We've had callers that were literally on the border of committing suicide, maybe, or they had their plans set up. They would call and tell us that no one understands them, that they're alone and they don't have anyone in their surroundings that can listen to them."

Interligne has been offering its 24/7 helpline for decades with the help of donations and project-based funding from the city and province. According to Thiyagarajah, the most distressing calls typically come in at night "because that's the time when people have a hard time dealing with life in general."

The helpline also gets called from elsewhere in Canada and from other countries that might not be in the same time zone.

About one-third of all Interligne calls come during the nighttime, said Thiyagarajah.

But now funding is lacking, and Interligne might be forced to halt its services between 12 a.m. and 8 a.m. at the end of March.

"Now if we're not going to have any more service at night, that puts about 10,000 callers at risk of not being able to get the help that they need," said Thiyagarajah.

'Why cancel a service that works really well?'

Thiyagarajah and his team have been working to secure permanent funding from the provincial government for two years to no avail, leaving the community feeling left behind, he said.

"With the government not responding, it really makes me feel like we don't matter or that our presence is maybe not welcome," he said.

"It feels like we're a stick in someone's wheels when down the line all we want to do is live a happy life and that's what we're trying to provide to people."

The office of Quebec's social services minister told CBC that it's looking into possible solutions.

LGBTQ organizations in Montreal say Interligne is a unique service that would leave a gap in the community that other hotlines can't fill.

Those working at Interligne are already trained to be aware of LGBTQ people's personal experiences with discrimination and stigmatization and are often from the community themselves.

Mona Greenbaum, the executive director of the LGBT+ Family Coalition, says Interligne is the only organization that has the resources to meet the needs of callers. Workers at 8-1-1 (the province's telehealth line), for example, already refer callers to Interligne.

"Those resources are already there, the people are already trained, the service is up and running and has been operating for decades," she said.

"So why cancel a service that works really well?"

Greenbaum says LGBTQ organizations, and community organizations in general, have been historically underfunded in Quebec.

"The government needs to step up now because we're talking about saving lives," she said, pointing out that members of the LGBTQ are statistically at higher risk of suicide.

"I think sometimes the most urgent calls happen at night. We can cause tragedy by cancelling this service."

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help: