Montreal’s Chez Doris invests in housing to support homeless women
Montreal shelter raises $15M to address homelessness among vulnerable women, with plans for more
Growth can be a good thing — but for the people who run Chez Doris, expanding into temporary and transitional housing for vulnerable and homeless women wasn’t quite the type of growth they had in mind.
Chez Doris has operated as a day shelter for vulnerable and marginalized women in Montreal since 1977, offering clients meals, temporary shelter, medical services and clothes.
But the steady rise in the number of women experiencing homelessness in Montreal over the past few years has prompted the organization to expand into real estate, acquiring properties for overnight shelters, transitional housing and subsidized rentals.
“The pandemic changed absolutely everything,” said executive director Marina Boulos-Winton.
In response to the growing housing shortage and homeless crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chez Doris first dipped its toes into providing a temporary 24-hour shelter using funds contributed by Makivik Corporation.
But that still wasn’t enough to meet demand, so in December 2020, Chez Doris opened a 40-room emergency night shelter out of a hotel, with Indigenous women accounting for 366 overnight stays in its first year of operation.
According to Statistics Canada’s 2021 census, 31 per cent of Inuit in Canada, or 21,869 people, identified as living outside of Inuit Nunangat, including more than 1,100 who live in Montreal.
Montreal has the third-highest Inuit population, behind Ottawa-Gatineau, with 1,730 Inuit, and Edmonton, with 1,290.
Looking ahead to life post-pandemic, the need for Chez Doris continues to grow, says Boulos-Winton.
She calls the change in her organization a “paradigm shift from preventing homelessness to supporting the homeless.”
To meet the growing demand, the Chez Doris: jour et nuit fundraising campaign that launched in 2021 successfully raised $15 million to fund development of a permanent overnight shelter and for operational expenses related to future projects.
This expansion will benefit Inuit women, who account for 25 per cent of Chez Doris’s overall clientele, according to Boulos-Winton, and are the youngest and most vulnerable of any demographic who use its services.
When Chez Doris opened a new 24-bed emergency overnight shelter in September, anywhere from one to five urban Inuit women reserved a bed each night.
“[Our Inuit clientele] face challenges of the sex trade and human trafficking,” she said.
Boulos-Winton said the Inuit women she sees at the day shelter are often suffering from trauma and serious addiction issues, with most struggling to participate in the local community owing to differences in culture, education and language.
Boulos-Winton said her team has plans underway to launch more permanent housing solutions using some of the money raised this year.
There are 26 studio apartments on the way through partnerships with Montreal housing organizations, 19 of which will be eligible for rent subsidies.
Chez Doris also purchased a second residential building in 2020, with support from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Once this is ready, it will offer 20 bedrooms with bathrooms, and shared renovated kitchens.
When these two buildings open in the spring, Chez Doris staff will select the tenants by an application process, as well as manage the buildings and provide support services to tenants.