Homelessness in the Magdalen Islands: Shelter of last resort in the hospital portico

Itinérance in the &Is-de-la-Madeleine: Shelter of last resort in the portico of the 'hospital


The Îles-de-la-Madeleine are no exception to the phenomenon of homelessness, which now only affects large Quebec cities. And during the pandemic, the situation became so serious that the archipelago hospital had to welcome homeless people in its portico last winter. 

“It was an ultimate solution to a problem that we were facing exponentially and exceptionally,” said Nathalie Bourgeois, community organizer at the Integrated Health and Social Services Center (CISSS) des Îles.

She explained to us that the confinement, resulting from health measures to prevent the spread of the virus, had the effect of depriving homeless people of the social network on which they could rely for a night or two.

His colleague Alain Bourgeois, head of administration of mental health, youth in difficulty and addictions programs at the CISSS des Îles, underlines for his part that “it is not a dignity for these people to find themselves in the portico” . “We have to find other types of accommodation for them,” he adds.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem on the Islands, the housing crisis, the rising cost of living and mental health problems are also factors that influence the phenomenon of homelessness.

And, on the Islands as elsewhere in Quebec, homelessness affects both men and women, regardless of their social class or their diploma.

“There is no typical portrait of people homeless and it's not a voluntary option either,” says Mario Pichette, street worker for Carrefour Unite, an organization that works to prevent addictions.

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Since last year, Carrefour Unit has been distributing “survival kits” as needed, consisting of a tent, a ground mattress, a sleeping bag, a pillow and blankets. In order to prevent homelessness, it also offers shopping vouchers to people in need, thanks to financial support from the federal-provincial Reaching Home program. These “gift cards” allow people to avoid losing their rent for food or to buy medicine.

“At the end of each month, it's always the same dilemma, points out the worker of street. And we want to avoid the social disaffiliation that occurs when a person loses their apartment. It pushes her to the margins of society.”

On the other hand, Carrefour Unit is running a community heat stop and fridge project for the most disadvantaged. Starting next winter, soup and coffee will be served there. Homeless people will also be able to take showers, wash their clothes and store goods there.

For its part, the CISSS des Îles has reactivated its Homelessness Committee on which sit representatives of community organizations community and the municipality, in order to explore possible solutions to meet the various challenges posed by the phenomenon. The healthcare facility has also invested several hundred thousand dollars since 2019-2020 to increase its resources allocated to the Dependency and Homelessness Program.

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