The sudden closure of the Mélaric rehab centre Tuesday due to financial difficulties is raising new questions about social aid reforms undertaken by the Quebec government.
Located in Saint-André-d'Argenteuil, 90 kilometres west of Montreal, the 130-bed clinic was the largest of its kind in Quebec.
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Its closing puts 17 employees out of work and disrupts the treatment of 75 current clients for alcoholism and drug addiction.
Of those 75 clients, 43 who were attending the clinic under judicial orders will return to detention centres. The remaining 32 will be transferred to other clinics or return home.
Clients in 'distress'
Residents only learned of the centre's closing Tuesday, and many met the news with tears and anxiety.
"I've only been here a week and I'm still in distress," said Cédric Giroux.
"I'll have to find a new clinic. I wasn't expecting this. Otherwise, I wouldn't have come, I would have found another clinic. It's a great group here and we're losing it all. We're losing our family."
Another resident who was not named said he found a sense of self-worth at the Mélaric centre that he's never felt before.
"All my life I've been told I was good for nothing, that I was worthless. For the first time, I had people helping me who believed in me, friends who believed in me," he said.
Raymond Savaria, one of the centre's counsellors, worried about the impact the closing will have on his clients.
"They had hope in us, and that's finished," he said.
Lise Bourgault, Mélaric's deputy director general, said the centre was making every effort to reduce the stress on its clients, many of whom are in a "fragile" state.
"This is their home, and many of them have nothing," she said.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the centre said the Quebec government has been deaf to its "numerous appeals for help."
The centre said provincial financing for social aid programs has been cut to the point that it can no longer remain open.
Provincial funding for rehab clinics provides $37 a day for clients housed in dorm-type accommodations and $50 for those housed in a double room.
Those amounts only cover food and accommodation, not therapy.
In May, new provincial rules took effect that cut the monthly social benefits for those enrolled in a rehab program to $200 from $700.
Clients at the Mélaric clinic had been responsible for paying a $150 admission fee and a monthly therapy fee of $400, but the reduction of their provincial benefits to $200 a month made charging such fees "morally unacceptable," Bourgault said.
The loss of those fees amounted to $350,000 in lost revenue for the centre in 2015.
"We're no longer able to feed our clients and pay for their therapy," Bourgault said.
The centre asked Quebec's government for a $350,000 subsidy to help it stay open, but received only $100,000.
Bourgault said that decision was short-sighted.
"It's the government's loss, really, because this will end up costing the government much more than the [$350,000] we requested," Bourgault said.
Government says financial resources are limited
Quebec's Minister of Public Health, Lucie Charlebois, said every effort was being made to reduce the impact of the centre's closing on its clients.
She said it was impossible to meet Mélaric's request for $350,000 given the current financial situation facing the province.
Jean-François Lisée, the Parti Québecois' spokesman on social services and public health, called the government's social aid reforms "a machine for creating homelessness."
Emergency meeting requested
News of Mélaric's closing sparked calls for an emergency meeting between the Quebec government and the association representing organizations dedicated to drug rehabilitation in Quebec, known by its French acronym APOD.
The association said a number of its members are also on the brink of shutting their doors and called for a "lasting solution" to prevent that from happening.