CHUM partners with homeless shelter to help mentally ill

The Old Brewery Mission and the French super hospital (CHUM) are launching a pilot project to try to get homeless people off the street by improving access to psychiatric care.

Partnership first of its kind in Quebec

We've agreed to omit Chris's last name because he is concerned that his struggle with mental health could influence his future employment.  

A unique partnership between the Old Brewery Mission and the French super hospital (CHUM) will provide shelter and a dedicated psychiatric staff to a group of up to ten homeless people. 

One of the psychiatrists involved, Olivier Farmer, says the mentally ill homeless population is underserved in the existing health care system.

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in need and they are not getting proper services. They are like a population that we have abandoned," says Farmer. 

The director general of the Old Brewery Mission, Matthew Pearce, says there are about 20,000 homeless people living in Montreal, with half of them dealing with mental health issues. 

"One of the phenomena that we're trying to address is where the homeless individual goes over to the CHUM and is seen very quickly... they're given some medication and told to come back in a week. They come back to the Old Brewery Mission and sell the pills outside the front door to make some money and then they never go back," says Pearce.

Homeless and mentally ill in Montreal

Chris, a soft-spoken 37-year-old with bipolar disorder, says the pilot project makes sense for many reasons. His condition is often accompanied by periods of psychosis. 

"The first time this happened to me it lasted for 21 days. I ended up in jail because I walked into somebody's house thinking I was supposed to do that. I didn't mean to do that. Eventually the doctors brought me to the hospital," he says. 

Clearly the homeless situation is growing in Montreal. We've got to bring that to an end,- Matthew Pearce, director general of the Old Brewery Mission

Chris has to change his medications regularly and requires ongoing psychiatric support. He says it's important for people with his condition to have a place to go if they end up on the street. He says it's hard to hold down a job. 

"It's been an on-and-off battle with mental health. I was working in customer service but I realize that's probably too much pressure. I'm not going to be going back to that," he says. 

The Old Brewery Mission and the CHUM hope the pilot project helps Montrealers like Chris, who need ongoing psychiatric care, to get back on their feet. 

"Clearly the homeless situation is growing in Montreal. We've got to bring that to an end," says Pearce.

"If we can target 50 per cent of the homeless population and help them stabilize their mental health conditions, we can make a significant dent." 

The program begins on Nov. 12 and is funded by benefactors of the Old Brewery Mission. Pearce says there is enough funding to last for 12 months. After that, he hopes the province will invest.

About the Author

Morgan Dunlop

Morgan Dunlop is a reporter with CBC Montreal.


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