It could be months before the homeless drop-in centre at St. James United Church in downtown Montreal re-opens, after most of the centre was destroyed by fire early Monday.
The fire left the front of the recently-renovated 125-year-old church on Sainte-Catherine Street untouched, but damage to the back of the building is so extensive that firefighters will not allow staff at the drop-in centre to go inside.
"We lost our sleeping quarters, our living room and our dining room," said Alain Spitzer, executive-director of the St. James Drop-In Centre. "All the furniture was destroyed either by fire or water."
The day centre has been running for 26 years as a safe haven for men and women living on the streets. They can stop by for a coffee, a hot meal, a shower and some compassion.
Spitzer said the core group of about 50 clients is like a family, and now that family has lost its home.
"Yesterday we had a guy who came in, and he couldn't process the fact that it was closed," said Spitzer. "He just said where am I gonna eat?"
Spitzer said his goal is to get back inside as soon as it's safe to assess the damage and clean up.
In the meantime the centre needs cash and new furniture to get back on its feet.
Anyone who wants to help can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.