Open Door shelter to stay at St. Stephen's during hunt for permanent home

The Open Door will be able to stay in its current home in Westmount until the end of December, according to the centre's acting director.

Shelter says hunt for a new home has been complicated by gentrification around Cabot Square

David Chapman said that "wealthy interests" are making it difficult to find a new home for The Open Door, a downtown centre that offers support and services to homeless people. (CBC )

The Open Door, a downtown Montreal drop-in centre, has been given five more months to find a new home, after signing a lease so it can remain at its current space in St. Stephen's Anglican Church.

The centre, whose clients are largely Indigenous, has been operating out of St. Stephen's near Cabot Square for nearly 30 years. The church building was sold earlier this year, and in May the shelter was told it had until July 31 to find a new home.

"This makes really an enormous difference," said David Chapman, the centre's acting director.

"It allows us a little bit of breathing room to be able to find a new location, to find a new landlord that's willing to take us on and work with us."

Chapman said the centre was able to sign a new lease Monday morning, and will be able to stay at the church until December 31.

About 150 people use the centre's services daily, and about half of them are Inuit. 

David Chapman, the acting director of Open Door, says the centre's current location in St. Stephen's Anglican Church offers people a feeling of serenity. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

The centre has been struggling to find a home nearby, because of property values in the neighbourhood are high and, according to Chapman, negotiations with potential landlords stall as soon as it's clear his organization supports homeless people.

"Our biggest obstacle is wealthy interests. That's the biggest obstacle. It's gentrification, it's people who don't want to look at homeless people on the streets," he said.

"It's a thinly guised racism, where people would just rather that the Inuit went somewhere else."

'Love to come here'

Chapman said he has personally looked at 20 potential buildings.

"Of those 20 I've looked at, two have been willing to talk with me. Of the two, one was workable," he said. 

The goal is to find a building that is within walking distance, or about six blocks, from Cabot Square. 

A $400-million mixed-use redevelopment has been planned across the street, at the former site of the Montreal Children's Hospital. Chapman said that people at the centre knew the writing was on the wall as soon as word of the redevelopment came. 

Connie Kadlutsiak said she's happy Open Door will be staying put at St. Stephen's until the end of the December. She's been going to the centre for about 15 years. (CBC)

Connie Kadlutsiak has been coming to St. Stephen's for almost 15 years, and even though she's found a place to live, she still comes to help out and meet others.

"I'm happy," she said about news the shelter is staying put for a few months.

Kadlutsiak says it's important for her to have a place to meet her Inuit friends.  

"I just love to come here and help even though I don't need nothing," she said. 

Chapman said a new space would need to be big enough for 50 beds, include offices for nurses and social workers and other facilities.

The shelter serves people even when they're intoxicated, which Chapman says is rare. Many shelters require people using the facilities to be sober.

​The City of Montreal said it was following the situation closely, and "welcomed" news the centre's deadline to find a new home had been extended.

City spokesperson Marc-André Gosselin also noted the city had given the Open Door $30,000 a year for two years to help offer services to vulnerable people.