Montreal day shelter offers lifeline to homeless Inuit women during COVID-19
Executive director of Chez Doris fears pandemic’s impact on clients could be “devastating”
Homeless Inuit women in Montreal are suffering even more as a result of COVID-19, says Marina Boulos-Winton, executive director of Montreal’s Chez Doris day shelter for women.
“About 28 per cent of our clients are Inuit,” she said.
The shelter is located in the heart of Montreal’s downtown on Chomedey St., not far from Atwater St. and Cabot Square, a gathering place for Inuit downtown.
Since March 17, Chez Doris has been serving only homeless women, and the need to maintain social distancing has reduced the numbers of women who can enter the shelter from 100 to 40.
Of those 40, about 12 are usually Inuit, Boulos-Winton said.
But the needs of the Chez Doris clients remain huge.
On a recent day, 10 women who came to Chez Doris said they had slept on the streets the previous night and they would go back to sleeping again “in the rough” that night.
For many homeless women, their usual night shelters, such as the Native Women’s Shelter, are filled to capacity, or have closed, like the shelter at the former Royal Victoria Hospital, which will become an isolation unit for the homeless.
As of March 24, Quebec had more than 1,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 600 of those in Montreal.
“Montreal is trying to figure out how they’re trying to put systems in place,” Boulos-Winton said. “It’s all about preparedness for the worst.”
But the outcome for these homeless women may be “devastating” because so many are not healthy and are exposed to a lot of danger, she said.
Observing COVID-19 protection and social distancing is hard for them, and many of the Inuit women at Chez Doris already have health issues.
“One has a colostomy bag and she’s homeless. A couple have scabies, which is contagious in itself. Another has bedbugs crawling all over her, so they have other issues. Some have latent TB and some have bronchitis. Some is chronic, some is new,” Boulos-Winton said.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the shelter’s services have been temporarily limited to serving breakfast and lunch, offering access to caseworkers and administrative services, and providing basic necessities, such as respite beds, emergency clothing, showers or hygiene products.
Chez Doris has also cancelled its recreational activities. Its arts and crafts room now serves as a space for those who need to take a rest or feel unwell.
Chez Doris gives those who want to keep occupied a new colouring book and crayons, as well as crossword puzzles.
Boulos-Winton said Chez Doris accepts—and needs—online donations.
Online donations or purchases sent directly to Chez Doris at 1430 Chomedey St. will allow the shelter to buy new running or walking shoes (size 8 and up,) new tights and jogging pants of all sizes, care packages, colouring books, and Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
Chez Doris also needs unopened, unexpired bottles of hand sanitizer, as there is no sink at the shelter’s entry. And they’re accepting donations of masks for clients who have a cough or a cold.
To keep the shelter clean and to limit possible infection with COVID-19, Chez Doris has increased its use of a hired cleaning company, which costs more than $1,400 per week. Each evening, all high-touch areas are cleaned with a bleach and water solution.
Meanwhile, clients who do have a place to live but can no longer use the day shelter are also suffering: those who are poor and do not have a television, internet access, a phone or any other way to pass the time are “despondent” because they are so isolated, Boulos-Winton said.
Some are also running out of food, so Chez Doris case workers drove to their homes on Wednesday to drop off food at their doors. About half of those deliveries were to Inuit households, Boulos-Winton said.
Overall, it’s extremely stressful for everyone at Chez Doris, she said, even though they are currently offering day shelter to fewer women.
“It’s less women, but they’re all extremely marginalized,” Boulos-Winton said. “They’re stressed out. And our staff is stressed and worried about bringing COVID-19 back to their families.”