Maison des voisines de Lanaudière: a new, ambitious formula to help women experiencing homelessness in Montreal

At a glance, Maison des voisines de Lanaudière, located in the heart of the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, looks a lot like other triplexes in this coveted and lively Montreal neighbourhood. Inside, the atmosphere is like a warm and cozy family home—food is simmering on the stove, the washing machine is humming away, and there’s a woman knitting in the living room.

The reality

The truth is that these are relay-apartments for women whose harrowing stories are in stark contrast to the upscale Plateau neighbourhood. Maison des voisines de Lanaudière accommodates women who, just a few months prior, were admitted to the Old Brewery Mission’s emergency shelter for homeless women, the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion.

Homelessness is a sobering fact that no one wants to talk about, but it’s an important issue that we as a society need to address. According to the Homeless Hub, women account for 27% of Canada’s 235,000 homeless people (Homeless Hub, “The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016,” accessed on March 7, 2019, at https://homelesshub.ca/SOHC2016).

After all their hardship, some of these women, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, now face the task of rebuilding their lives. Today, it’s common knowledge that many women live in situations of violence and vulnerability. Some have seen their social support network crumble or never had one in the first place, making it much harder to get help in times of need. Awareness campaigns have shown us that a quarter of Canadians are battling mental health issues, which can create instability and make it difficult for people to keep their homes. Addictions can also be a problem. There are many issues to resolve, and it’s imperative that we offer many solutions in response.

Making dreams come true through generosity

Maison des voisines de Lanaudière would not have been possible without the generous support of Fondation Marcelle et Jean Coutu. During a visit at the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion, the emergency women’s shelter, Marie-Josée Coutu asked Florence Portes, Director of Women’s Services at the Old Brewery Mission, and her team: “what is your greatest wish for the future of your services?” The answer was easy: “to open a new house!”

The pavilion, with a capacity of 65 people on its four floors at the time, was struggling to provide adequate room and allowed no possibility to improve the quality of the living environment for the women. The overpopulated space was a huge challenge for the team, one that they were determined to solve while maintaining the same capacity.

Naturally, it was necessary to set up a new location.

Once this wonderful opportunity came up, the team finally had carte blanche to embark on an ambitious project–building a welcoming and inclusive living space.The relay-apartment formula is simple, allowing women to move on from an often prolonged emergency context and into a normalizing one.

November 1, 2018, the new Maison des voisines de Lanaudière opened its doors and welcomed its ten first tenants.


A service continuum

Because every woman lives a distinct life experience, the need for flexible psychosocial support varies from one person to another. The women’s needs range from relearning how to live in a community to developing life skills and learning how to cook or manage a budget, and from building self-confidence to owning their right to claim their rightful place in the community.

No one recovers overnight from experiencing homelessness. On long waiting lists for subsidized housing or while struggling to find decent and affordable housing in the private rental stock, the women are limited to using emergency shelters for too long. As such, the relay apartments at Maison des voisines de Lanaudière allow for improved wait time conditions to better bounce back and learn life skills to ensure future residential stability.

Better understanding women’s life trajectories

The Old Brewery Mission joined forces with McGill to analyze the data being collected on a daily basis, which has allowed us to implement several concrete projects. Much of the data compiled in recent years related to men—we’ve rectified that.

If we want to find a real solution to women’s homelessness, the first step is to collect data to help us better understand their experiences,” explained research coordinator Hannah Brais. “If community organizations like ourselves keep relying on data focused on the experiences of homeless men when creating programs for women, we’ll be ignoring the unique circumstances that led them to the street in the first place.”

Life on the Plateau

Sceptics might think that the Plateau would be a bad fit for women in such vulnerable situations, but we’re proud to the proving quite the opposite! One might define gentrification as a social mix; an environment where people from all economic and social walks of life can live in harmony. Hasn’t Michel Tremblay’s litterature immortalized the working classes that inhabited the neighborhood? The proof is in the many community organizations that reside the area and foster this type of initiative for the benefit of living together in harmony.

These include the Little Brothers, La Maison des amis du Plateau Mont-Royal, and Renaissance, which share the same street as trendy boutiques and chic restaurants. It’s important to note that the locals have welcomed the arrival of the new social residence in their neighborhood with open arms, giving a group of women the opportunity to re-establish themselves as full-fledged members of society.

Maison des voisines de Lanaudière has become a vibrant nexus of interaction and a beacon of hope. As Director of Women’s Services, Florence Portes wanted to make sure these women got to live in a colourful part of town with a tight-knit community to support them in this ambitious exercise in social mixing.

Today, women who’ve experienced homelessness walk the streets of their neighborhood with peace of mind, finally permitting themselves to hope for a better future—one where they’ve regained control over their lives.

From the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion to the Plateau, in 60 Seconds

A public service announcement graciously produced by a team of film professionals for the Mission’s Women’s Services, launched March 8 in honor of International Women’s Day, shows the journey of a woman leaving the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion towards a place ofher own. At the very end, she’s shown walking down the street in her new neighborhood and entering a Plateau apartment, representative of Maison des voisines de Lanaudière. Watch it here and see her take this important step.

 


Discover France’s story, a woman whose journey led her to Maison des voisines de Lanaudière.