Chez Doris is a woman’s day center in Montreal. It has been in operation for almost 40 years.
Doris, the center’s namesake, was living on the streets in the 1970’s, and at this time the resources for homeless women were non-existent. She did have a caseworker, and Doris told her one day that she wished to have a safe place to go with no questions asked.
Doris was raped and found murdered a couple of days later. In 1977, her caseworker started Chez Doris in Doris’ memory, with the policy of no questions asked.
“We’re more in tune to women’s issues today than in the past. However, the number of services such as beds at nighttime shelters is severely underestimated for the amount of women who are in need of shelter in the city.” said Joëlle Michaud, the Coordinator of Volunteers and Community Outreach.
The establishment provides accommodations like breakfast and lunch, clothing, hygiene products and food bags. Volunteers and professionals often come to give workshops on yoga or art therapy. Doctors and nurses also visit for check-ups with the clientele.
Many indigenous women and women of color frequent Chez Doris. I asked Michaud to comment on the specialized services provided for them.
“We have a full time caseworker for [Aboriginal] women to help them in finding apartments and furnishing these apartments. The Aboriginal Housing Project involves another caseworker that visits the indigenous women once moved in for follow ups, filing paperwork, accompaniment to hospitals etc.”
Michaud says that many Inuit and indigenous women suffer from alcoholism, mental illness and drug addiction, and generally face different problems from women of color such as refugees.
Since December of 2017, Chez Doris saw an influx of refugees seeking services. Michaud said that they come for clothing and food. Many receive basic furniture like mattresses and sofas from donors through Chez Doris. The majority of refugees do not suffer from mental health issues. Their goal is to get essential resources, to move along to find a job, and to take French classes.
Homelessness in Montreal has more or less stayed at the same levels or has increased according to Michaud. Tania Fillipone who is the Assistant Director at Chez Doris commented that the number of homeless people in Montreal has definitely not decreased since a study conducted in 2015. This study found that 3,016 people were living on the streets. This number did not, however, take into account “hidden homelessness” where people couch surf or stay with their partners.
The Provincial Government has cut funding to mental health facilities and services, making it harder for programs like the Aboriginal Housing Project and the first housing approach to be fully effective. Fillipone says that the statistics from a previous housing project open to all women showed that 80 out of 100 applicants eventually lost their apartment, despite being properly housed and supported for three years.
Homelessness is a complex issue in our city, and there are many areas that need to be tackled to help alleviate the problem. For instance, the federal Conservative government, if elected, is expected to cut the funding for aboriginal programs, leaving the women in The Aboriginal Housing program vulnerable. Funding is essential for these efforts to function, so we must support governments and groups that advocate for the funding of initiatives tackling homelessness issues.
I asked Michaud what a college student can do to help combat homelessness. She responded that donations are a great way to help, and many students also help to organise clothing and food drives, donating the proceeds to Chez Doris.
She also said to look into how you can help at specific shelters. For example, at Chez Doris you can manage a workshop, like arts and crafts, a movie screening etc. You can also serve breakfast or lunch or help to hand out clothing. Chez Doris’ Volunteer Coordinator can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in volunteering there.
Contact the outreach/volunteer coordinator at the specific shelter near you to learn more about how you can help.
Written by: India-Lynn Upshaw-Ruffner