Montreal

Montreal's Welcome Hall Mission celebrates 125 years of fighting poverty

The Welcome Hall Mission in Saint-Henri is celebrating 125 years of lending a helping hand to those in need in Montreal.

The Mission, a place to get a bowl of soup in 1892, now feeds 3,000 people every week

Sam Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission, says he gets to work with the most inspiring people. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

It's not just the City of Montreal and Canada marking milestone birthdays this year.

The Welcome Hall Mission in Saint-Henri is celebrating 125 years of lending a helping hand to those in need in Montreal.

Its birthday bash was held Wednesday, from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m., out on the street in front of its building at 606 de Courcelle Street in the Southwest borough.

"It's not just Barack Obama who likes the Southwest," said Welcome Hall Mission's CEO Sam Watts, referring to the former U.S. president dining at neighbourhood restaurant Liverpool House after his speech Tuesday in Montreal.

"Everyone should come to the Southwest and enjoy the party there." 

More than 100 people joined the party.

"Every once in a while, you need to celebrate success," Watts said.
Hundreds of people gathered Wedneday evening on de Courcelle Street to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Welcome Hall Mission. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

The Mission was founded 125 years ago. At the time, it was just a place to get a bowl of soup.

"Over the 125 years, our offer of services evolved greatly as Montreal's needs have evolved. So we moved into providing shelter," Watts said on CBC Radio One's Homerun.

"Today, we talk about shelter food and love."

The Welcome Hall Mission now feeds 3,000 people every week through its market.

"It's a new take on a food bank," Watts explained. "You grab a shopping cart, go around, pick up food, check out — there are limits of course — and get all that you take for free."

When you have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table, it's not a very nice choice to have to make.- Welcome Hall Mission CEO Sam Watts

"It's a way of preserving dignity for people and providing people with food and keeping them from falling further into poverty."

"When you have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table, it's not a very nice choice to have to make," he said.

The Welcome Hall Mission also provides shelter for those in need.

Watts said most of the mission's clients, 75 per cent of them, need shelter for fewer than 15 nights — a sign they are not homeless for long, he said.

"To me, that speaks to the success that we've had, and we've partnered together with the other missions in the city to achieve that success."

Watts says besides serving people struggling to make ends meet or those with mental health issues, many of its newer clients these days are people who just moved to Montreal.

"They come, they're here for a while, and then they run out of resources, and they just need a helping hand. You give them a helping hand, and then several months later they come back and end up volunteering with you.

"I get to work among some of the most inspiring people. The team is exceptional in their commitment to Montrealers."

With files from CBC's Homerun

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