New Montreal residence for asylum seekers helps build bridges to those in need

Montreal's Catholic diocese has converted an east-end presbytery into a temporary home for asylum seekers, especially expectant women and single mothers with young children.

Catholic diocese converts presbytery in east-end Montreal to house single or expectant moms

Staff and residents, including these four- and five-year-old sisters from Egypt, celebrate the opening of a new home for asylum seekers opened by Montreal's Catholic diocese in the city's east end. (CBC)

After eleven months of planning, a new home for asylum seekers has officially opened in Montreal.

Called Le Pont, French for The Bridge, the rooms are located in the presbytery at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Parish in the city's east end.

Montreal's Catholic diocese says by helping newcomers get settled, it's responding to a need in the community.

"As human beings, we're called to help each other, whatever our conditions, and find ways to build bridges between each other," said Christian Lépine, the Archbishop of Montreal.

Archbishop Christian Lepine cuts the ribbon at the official opening of The Bridge, a home for asylum seekers in east-end Montreal. (CBC)

Thousands of asylum seekers crossed the border last summer, although numbers have tapered off since then.

The Bridge is able to accommodate about 20 asylum seekers at a time, in several rooms set up especially for pregnant women and single mothers with young children.

Lépine said if there aren't enough asylum seekers to fill the rooms, others who need a place to stay will be welcomed.

Asylum seekers at the Bridge stay only until they find a more permanent place to live, but staff say they're welcome to visit anytime.

'We are all a family'

Soad Ali is an asylum seeker from Cairo. She and her two young daughters have been in Canada since September, and they're among the first residents at the home.
Soad Ali and her daughters, aged four and five, arrived in Canada in September. Ali says residents at The Bridge strive to make the converted presbytery feel like a home. (CBC)

She said she feels the people there are trying their best to help the new arrivals feel at home.

"We cook for each other: no one cooks alone. We eat together.… Here we are all a family," she said.

Alessandra Santopadre, who is in charge of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers for the diocese, says it can be hectic but she loves being at the home.

People of all nationalities are welcome. Signs inside the building are up in five languages, which can complicate communication, she said.

"We arrive to understand one another," Santopadre said. "I'm Italian, so I use a lot of my hands."

With files from Kate McKenna