Montreal

Asylum seekers increase need for donations at Montreal non-profits

"It's a completely different dynamic," says the head of Chez Doris, a Montreal day shelter for women that has seen an increase in demand from new arrivals.

Chez Doris, Montreal drop-in centre for women, among those seeing shift in clientele

Alannah Gibson, a case worker at Chez Doris, organizes the clothing room at the non-profit. In recent months, asylum seekers from Nigeria have turned to the centre for assistance. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

The line started early, more than two hours before the doors opened.

More than a dozen Nigerian asylum seekers gathered one morning last week, waiting for their turn inside the clothing room at Chez Doris.

The women's day shelter in the west end of downtown Montreal offers an assortment of items — tops, pants, shoes and purses — for those in need, three mornings a week.

Each person can take 20 items for a total of $1.

Many of the women, who didn't want to be identified by their full names, said they had crossed into Quebec at Roxham Road earlier this year and were staying at the nearby YMCA residence set aside for asylum seekers.

Increasingly, the women using the service are new arrivals, rather than the non-profit's usual clientele, many of whom are Indigenous.

"It's a completely different dynamic," said Marina Boulos-Winton, the organization's executive director.

Boulos said Chez Doris started to "get overwhelmed" late last year as the number of asylum seekers crossing into the province continued to climb.

She said staff and volunteers have managed to keep up with demand and a steady stream of donations have helped.

But it has also been difficult to balance the needs of the organization's longtime clients, many of whom struggle with homelessness and addiction, and those looking to start a new life in Montreal.

More than 9,000 people have crossed into Quebec so far this year to claim asylum, presenting a challenge not only for government agencies, but for local non-profits with few staff members and limited mandates, as well.

Cities need help, mayors say

Montreal is better equipped to handle an influx than Toronto, however, where Mayor John Tory has been pressing the federal government for assistance due to "unprecedented pressure" on the city's shelter system.

PRAIDA, a provincial government organization, helps asylum seekers in their first months in Quebec with health care, social services and housing, whereas Ontario doesn't have an equivalent triage system.

The group's spokesperson, Emmanuelle Paciullo, said PRAIDA can handle a "significant number of requests, without compromising on the quality of health care and social services."

There are currently 993 asylum seekers being housed in temporary housing, well below the city's capacity of 1,850.

The federal government set aside $50 million for temporary housing for new arrivals earlier this year. More than half of that, $36 million, was designated for Quebec, which was forced to open the Olympic Stadium to meet the demand last summer.

A Haitian woman hands passports to a RCMP officer at the border crossing near Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

The challenge, though, is providing adequate services once asylum seekers are living on their own.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the strain on resources is an issue the city is monitoring closely.

"We are a welcoming country and city. That being said, we want to make sure we have enough resources," she told reporters last week.

Food banks also dealing with strained resources

Sam Watt, the head of the Welcome Hall Mission, said roughly 5,000 of its 19,000 monthly clients are now asylum seekers.

"This influx is stretching us a bit," he said, noting that it's the first time the mission has had to put people on a waiting list to become regular clients.

While the mission has been able to handle the increase, Watt said there's a need for improve communication with the private sector to help asylum seekers find jobs.

Smaller non-profits, operating largely on private donations, are less adept at dealing with a sudden surge in demand.

Boulos-Winton said Chez Doris applied for a City of Montreal grant earlier this year for additional funding to have a dedicated employee to work with asylum seekers.

They didn't get the money, she said, because it was unclear how long the service would be needed.

"It goes a little bit beyond our mission," said Boulos-Winton.

"We're becoming a jack of all trades but we're wondering, how long is this going to last?"

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