Province to buy building near Cabot Square for permanent homeless centre; seven foundations pitching in

The Quebec government, along with several local foundations, is putting up millions to create a permanent centre just west of downtown Montreal as a one-stop shop for services for the homeless.

In making the announcement at a press conference Monday, the funders heaped praise on Resilience Montreal, the grassroots organization that has struggled for years, often on a shoestring budget, to help Indigenous people who gather at Cabot Square.

"This is really, truly overwhelming," said Nakuset, the director of Resilience Montreal, who said it marked a major, long-term shift after an incredibly tough year marked by several deaths among homeless clients.

"I have been working in this field for over 20 years and I have never received this amount of money" from the provincial Indigenous affairs office, she said.

The total amount wasn't clear at first, as it's coming from several sources working together. The major share is $3.6 million from the province, going towards the purchase of the building. 

The City of Montreal is also pitching in, provincial authorities said, as well as seven foundations that are together contributing $1.5 million for the day centre's operating budget over three years.

They are the McConnell Foundation, the Pathy Family Foundation, the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation, the Greater Montreal Foundation, Centraide of Greater Montreal, the George Hogg Family Foundation, and the J. A. DeSève Foundation.

The group saw the importance of "stepping up," said Tasha Lackman, the vice president of philanthropy and community at the Foundation of Greater Montreal.

"Beyond providing a meal, a shower, a safe place to rest for those experiencing homeless, [Resilience Montreal] is creating a community," she said.

The organization, which runs street-based support programs and also currently has a warming tent set up in Cabot Square, has made "a community for people who are excluded from society, a community where they feel safe," said Lackman.

"It is literally saving lives every day."

Nakuset said that despite the hardships of the past year, the pandemic has also brought a new show of solidarity from many different people, and not just city and provincial officials.

"Community members have sort of risen up and just helped out by delivering food and clothing," she said.

"I hope that others can also recognize that we are doing the incredibly tough work to help support the population, and anyone that wants to help us, we would be glad to receive your help. It really takes a village, and we've really proven that."

The centre will be a place to get food, hot drinks and shelter, but it will also be equipped to help connect people with help finding housing, medical services and other needs.

Cabot Square, long an informal gathering place for homeless people and especially for Indigenous people without a home in Montreal, is at the southwest corner of Ste. Catherine St. and Atwater St.

The location of the building that's being bought for the day centre is confidential so far, but it's nearby, Nakuset said.

Ian Lafreniere, the province's Indigenous affairs minister, said there will be more news later on the building. He said there's "a sense of urgency" around finalizing the building sale because of the hot real estate market and the disappearing availability of property downtown.

Lafreniere acknowledged there was a day centre near Cabot Square until a few years ago, when it was forced to move, and said that was a shame.

The Open Door shelter used to be located in a church building a block from the square until the building was sold to a developer. That day shelter moved to the Plateau.

"The pressure is so high [because] buildings are getting extremely costly," said Lafreniere. "We need resources close to the Cabot Square."

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