Quebec City street youth looking for shelter on cold winter nights will now have a place to sleep — and so will their pets.
Starting Jan. 9, La Dauphine, located in the heart of Old Quebec, will open up to six beds when the temperatures drop below –15 C.
The non-profit agency has been supporting marginalized youth in Old Quebec for nearly 25 years, offering meals, counselling and back-to-school support, among many other services.
Josée Thériault, who works as a counsellor at the shelter, said pets provide "unconditional love" to the young people she works with.
"Often they have lost all contact with their families. Their animals are their protectors, their confidantes," said Thériault.
That's why it's important the overnight shelter be pet friendly, as are La Dauphine's day services, she said.
"If a person can't bring their dog with them, they'll prefer sleeping out in the cold rather than leave them behind."
Incentive for change
Thériault says animals sometimes help young people who use the shelter focus on their goals, because they do not want to see them suffer on the streets.
"By wanting to care for their animals, they learn to take care of themselves," she said.
"Sometimes their love is so powerful it will be enough to get them off drugs and back in school.''
Thériault said very few shelters in the province accept animals, and hopes to see more places do so.
SOS Itinérance in Montreal, located in the Très-Saint-Rédempteur Church in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, opens a pet-friendly space between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.when the temperatures drop below –15.
So does Dans La Rue's bunker, in Montreal's Gay Village, open to young people between the ages of 12 and 17.
''In the winter, when the shelter is at its top capacity, all available floor space is dedicated to mattresses to accommodate the overflow of people who need shelter,'' said Kathryn Stephens, a spokesperson for the mission.
''We realize that dogs can be wonderful companions for individuals who are experiencing homelessness, but we do not have adequate physical resources to care for pets."
Stephens says the issue comes up often and says the Mission would certainly consider solutions adapted to their reality.
Sébastien Thibault, who credits the shelter with helping turn his life around, said he's happy to hear it will now keep its door open overnight.
"The people at La Dauphine were able to push me to get my high school diploma," said Thibault, who used to spend his nights on the street and is now getting ready to start a college program in horticulture.
Thibault said opening the shelter overnight on the coldest nights help spread the word to those who aren't familiar with La Dauphine's resources.
As a youth roaming the streets of Quebec City, Thibault said the only place he could find a bed was L'Armée du Salut or Lauberivière, the city's largest homeless shelter.
But he said sleeping and showering with much older men who had very different problems left him feeling worse off.
"It's not great for morale," Thibault said.
La Dauphine Foundation set aside a $30,000 budget to hire counsellors who will stay overnight with the youth.
Up to 300 people are expected to show up this winter, along with 30 animals.