It’s a typical work day for Sebastien Dussault, counsellor for the Old Brewery Mission’s Suivi intensif en itinérance (SII) program. Today, Sebastien will accompany Alexis Thibault, the CHUM psychiatry resident assigned to the program, on his quest to find Daniel.
Alexis has been following Daniel for the past six weeks; he knows where to find him and when. It’s 11 a.m. “We have to leave now, before he changes spots,” Alexis says.
They make it to Place des Arts and find Daniel inside the complex. He’s sitting on a bench, calmly reading a book. Alexis explains that Daniel prefers to be alone and doesn’t like being in crowded places. The building’s security guards also know Daniel and always let him sit and read his books—he doesn’t bother anyone.
While one might expect to find a man of a certain age, with gray hair, loaded down with bags and maybe a cart of belongings picked up off the street, Daniel looks to be no more than 35 years old. Sporting a bushy beard and carrying a large duffel bag filled with his possessions, he looks more like a busy college student than someone living on the streets.
Alexis and Sebastien approach Daniel and introduce themselves. Despite their many recent conversations, Daniel doesn’t recognize Alexis and seems taken aback that Alexis addresses him by name.
Daniel has been homeless for almost four years, but his mental illness began about ten years ago while he was at university.
After politely asking for Daniel’s permission to sit next to him, they mention some of the services that can help him.
Having listened attentively to Alexis and Sebastien, Daniel gets up and walks away, seemingly confused.
Daniel believes that he’s still a university student, that he has an apartment, and that he visits his family every evening.
In reality, Daniel sleeps outside in a corner behind a restaurant. He hasn’t attended university in the past ten years, and he’s lost touch with his family and with the world around him.
“He lives in a parallel world—he thinks that I’m the one with mental health issues,” Alexis says, as he explains Daniel’s condition.
A crucial aspect of Sebastien’s and Alexis’ outreach work includes helping chronically homeless people with mental health issues to recognize their illness. This may be easier said than done, and in more extreme cases such as Daniel’s, it may be impossible. Sadly, living on the street can be a matter of life or death.
In a rare case such as this one, the SII team’s next step is to apply for a court mandate whereby a judge will determine whether Daniel needs to be admitted to hospital for treatment. If the application is granted, Daniel will be placed under supervised treatment.
Once his mental state stabilizes, he can enter the Mission’s SII program, where he will receive psychosocial and medical support, a safe bed to sleep in, and nutritious meals. Old Brewery Mission counsellors will assist him in his transition to stable housing and his reintegration into society.
Until then, the search for Daniel continues.