Montreal's only women's day shelter inaugurated its new overnight shelter Thursday, allowing Chez Doris to offer services 24/7 as of Monday.
The newly renovated shelter, located just across the street from Chez Doris's day centre on Chomedey Street, has 24 beds, including 22 Japanese-style sleeping pods and two beds in a separate room.
Each pod has its own ventilation system and they all have an electrical outlet, nightlight and access to Wi-Fi. The hope is to offer women more privacy.
The building also offers lockers, bathrooms, a laundry room, dining room, kitchenette and common space. Women with pets are accepted, something many shelters refuse.
"The nicest compliment I got — because we started showing the women the shelter so they know what to expect as of Monday — one lady said to me, 'On a scale of one to 10, this is 1,000,'" said Marina Boulos-Winton, Chez Doris's executive director.
The Chez Doris day centre already provides meals, showers, clothing, personal hygiene products, health and mental-health services and other support services, such as help searching for housing.
In 2020, it offered 24-hour emergency overnight hotel accommodations and started fundraising for its expansion programs, such as the overnight shelter.
Katreina Mace, an overnight case worker at Chez Doris, said the work she does is especially fulfilling as a survivor of intimate violence.
"Specifically for domestic violence, when you can help a woman regain her independence and get her life back together alone, it's very moving and very powerful," she said.
The overnight shelter can only go so far to help the increasing number of women facing homelessness. Shelters across the city have been swamped and Chez Doris is unable to keep up with the demand, said Boulos-Winton.
But this shelter is a step in the right direction and an improvement from sleeping on camping mats, she said.
Clara Seidenberg, an intervention worker at Chez Doris, says it's impossible to paint a picture of the type of women who use their services.
There are women from all walks of life and painting them all as drug users or victims creates stigma, she said. Their clientele has been changing and, with the pandemic, a flooded health-care system and the housing crisis, an increasing number of women knock at their door.
LGBTQ+ women and gender-diverse people are welcome and the shelter has been seeing more of them, said Boulos-Winton.
Benoit Dorais, the Sud-Ouest borough mayor, recognizes the increase in homelessness in Montreal and has high praise for the project.
"It proves that people in the community are capable of quality," he said. "It makes all the difference."
Donors and some federal and municipal funds financed the overnight shelter, which cost $5.2 million. Chez Doris was able to raise more than $15 million to keep the project going and support a new permanent residence for women it hopes to open in 2023.
Those who come to the shelter can reserve a bed for 30 days while working with a case worker on long-term solutions to find housing and regain their independence.
"Some people might think the homeless don't deserve something nice, but I think that they do because it improves their mental health and they need to be in a nice environment to get better," said Boulos-Winton.
With files from Kwabena Oduro and Carla Oliveira