Some repurposed containers now dot the landscape at Place Émilie-Gamelin in downtown Montreal.
They’re part of a new multidisciplinary initiative to make it easier for the homeless, and those at risk of becoming homeless, to access various services including health and psycho-social services.
Each of the three containers has been transformed into service points and is occupied by some of the different partners involved in the project.
One kiosk is housed by Montreal police, one by the regional health authority CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal and the third by the Société de Développement Social.
Community officers, psycho-social and nursing teams specialized in mental health and drug addiction, as well as social workers and community workers, will be available at the various stations and will be able to provide immediate assistance or referral services if needed.
Montreal police will be tasked with making sure people feel safe in the park and will be able to direct those in need to the appropriate partners.
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The idea is to bring the services where they are needed and create a first point of contact.
“People who are homeless don’t necessarily feel comfortable going to a hospital, going to a CLSC (clinic),” said Elaine Polflit of the CIUSSS.
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“We know and it’s been studied that proximity services, outreach, street work it’s one of the best ways to reach those people.”
Polflit said developing relationships with nurses for example is the first step towards going to the clinic, or the hospital, to get services that they need.
Nakuset, executive director for the Native Women’s Shelter, said the project is a step in the right direction but she did express some concerns.
She explained that referring someone to a service, be it at a clinic or other, sometimes isn’t enough.
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Vulnerable populations she says are often met with a closed door while trying to access services alone, either because of the way they look, because of their homelessness, or a lack of proper identification.
“If you go with someone from an organization who can represent and share what the goal of that is, that makes a humongous difference,” Nakuset said. “There are times when in order to get to that next step you need someone to help you pay for ID.”
“I’m not sure that the social workers in that little kiosk will be able to do that,” she said, adding they can point people in the right direction but what happens when they’re turned away?
Another issue, according to Nakuset, is the presence of police.
“Usually when people see police it’s a fearful experience,” she said.
Montreal police spokesperson Matthieu Farley agreed that officers will have their work cut out for them but said that building relationships is part of the job.
“Our job is to take the first step to build that social contract with them,” he said. “They need to get to know us to build that trust with us and we know it’s baby steps.”
The service points will be staffed seven days a week until the end of the pilot project on Sept. 28.
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