Montreal shelter serving many Inuit women gets $1-million gift

Chez Doris serves about 250 Inuit women a year


Chez Doris, the women's day shelter at 1430 Chomedey St. in Montreal, is open seven days a week to women who need help. Many are Inuit. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CHEZ DORIS)

Chez Doris, the women’s day shelter at 1430 Chomedey St. in Montreal, is open seven days a week to women who need help. Many are Inuit. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CHEZ DORIS)

Chez Doris, the day shelter for homeless women in downtown Montreal that serves many Inuit clients, received a big boost this past Sunday.

That’s when, at a fundraising tea attended by its many donors and supporters, the shelter accepted a donation of $1 million from Andrew Harper, a retired Montreal businessman.

With his late wife, Carole, Harper, now 95, used to own and operate a company that imported and distributed cookies and chocolates.

In honour of the Harpers’ gift, the Chez Doris building at 1430 Chomedey St. in Montreal will now bear the name of Carole and Andrew Harper, the shelter’s board of directors has decided.

That brick building, not far from Atwater St., a gathering place for Inuit downtown, is familiar to many Inuit women, who comprise about 15 per cent of the shelter’s clientele, said Marina Boulos-Winton, the executive director of Chez Doris.

As for Harper’s donation, it was an “exceptional” gift for the shelter, which has served women at its Chomedey address since 1977, Boulos-Winton said.

Chez Doris, which receives up to 100 women a day, offers services and programs to provide for their basic and immediate needs related to homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addictions.

The only women’s day shelter in Montreal, Chez Doris is open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dependent on donations for its programs, Chez Doris had to stop offering its weekend service for six months in 2014 due to a lack of money.

At Chez Doris, among many services, homeless women can find breakfast and lunch, as well as access to showers, hygienic products, a clothing depot, emergency food bags and six respite beds.

Chez Doris also runs an Inuit assistance program—but Chez Doris must fundraise to offer this program, as it does for 70 per cent of its $1.7-million a year budget.

In 2011, Makivik Corp. started to provide funding for an Inuk caseworker whose duties would include identifying and addressing the medical, social and housing needs of Inuit women in Montreal.

But finding and keeping Inuit caseworkers proved difficult, Boulos-Winton said.

So Makivik’s funding has since been reduced, she told Nunatsiaq News.

However, the Jarislowsky Family Foundation stepped up to help the shelter hire a non-Inuk individual who works exclusively with Inuit at the shelter. They number roughly 250 women among the shelter’s 1,600 clients.

Many Inuit women come to sleep in Chez Doris’s respite beds, Boulos-Winton said. They’ll sleep for a few hours and then head back out on to the streets for the night. It’s not a great solution, but a “band aid” for their larger needs, Boulos-Winton said.

Most of the shelter’s Inuit clients have ended up in the city as a result of housing shortages and legal problems, and these women’s numbers increase in the summer when they travel to large urban centres like Montreal and then find themselves homeless, she said.

Chez Doris plans to use Harper’s donation to help purchase a newer, more spacious building, needing less renovation.

Meanwhile, the City of Montreal is studying how to deal with the housing and social needs of its growing number of homeless residents, Boulos-Winton said.

Those plans may include the establishment of a “wet” shelter, which intoxicated clients could also use.

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