Montreal

Volunteers needed to help build service centre for homeless near Cabot Square

A new wellness centre, called Resilience Montreal will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., to both men and women. But volunteers are needed to get the project off the ground before winter grips the city.

With less than two weeks to go, more volunteers are needed to transform an old restaurant into a safe space

A team of non-profit staff and volunteers are turning an old restaurant at the corner of Montreal's Ste-Catherine Street and Atwater Avenue into a safe space for the city's homeless. (CBC)

Ken Parry had recently returned to his hometown of Montreal, looking forward to seeing his twin brother for the first time in more than two decades.

He was told he might find him at the Salvation Army Booth Centre, so he went there first.

"I missed him by about an hour. Apparently he left the Salvation Army that night very depressed," said Parry. 

"Kevin always had a big heart."

He left his contact information with the employees there, hoping to hear from his brother.

But he never did. 

Kevin Parry died sleeping on a bench in Cabot Square in September. His obituary says he had been sober for nine months and was feeling optimistic about his future. 

The 40-year-old was one of about 14 people who have died in the square since the Open Door day shelter was forced to move last December.

But there's new hope on the horizon. Community leaders and volunteers are tirelessly working to construct a new day centre just steps from the urban square.

The Resilience Montreal wellness centre will focus on preventing tragic stories like that experienced by the Parry brothers. 

Building a safe space

Backed by provincial and municipal funding, crews are turning an old restaurant at the corner of Ste-Catherine Street West and Atwater Avenue into the much-needed safe space for the city's homeless to visit during the day.

Opening later this month, the centre will offer men and women services seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Ken Parry's twin brother was recent found dead in Cabot Square, one of some 14 that have died there since the Open Door Shelter was forced to move last December. (CBC)

It will provide clients with three meals a day and offer intervention services, as well as access to mental health and addiction workers.

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter, is spearheading the project and she's encouraging volunteers to come help get the project off the ground.

"I think that this is the way that people can be part of the solution is by actually coming in and helping," she said.

"A lot of people feel helpless when they come in this area and they don't know what to do but this is something concrete that you can actually do."

Hoping for a 24-hour centre 

Ideally, Nakuset would like to keep the centre open 24 hours, but with a lack of funding is making that impossible at the moment.

The centre has a temporary backup plan in the meantime.

Come closing time, Resilience Montreal will offer clients a shuttle service that will take them to the former Royal Victoria Hospital, and other spaces where they can rest safely this winter. 

"We want them to come in and feel like they're at home and to look and see that it's a beautiful space for them," said Nakuset.

The new centre was announced last month. It's coming to life thanks to a collaboration between the Native Women's Shelter, the Nazareth Community and other organizations.

With the help of over a dozen volunteers, Nakuset is working to get the space ready by Nov. 14 — before the cold weather hits.

Construction already underway

Construction began Saturday, with the group painting walls, doing electrical work and trying to turn the former restaurant space into a safe haven for the area's homeless population. 

Nakuset (left) spearheaded the project. She began construction Saturday with over a dozen volunteers and architect Claire Davenport (right). (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

The new centre will include a kitchen and coffee counter, as well as a library area," said Claire Davenport, a volunteer with Architecture Without Borders Quebec who is in charge of designing the space. 

They are still looking for volunteers to help with the construction of the project. 

"We have a very long list of tasks and very specific things that everyone can do so as soon as they come in the door, we're putting them to work," she said.

It's the volunteers from the community that are bringing it all together, she explained. 

"This is definitely a project that takes a community to get it up and running," she said.

"The people that are going to be using the space, they're part of our community too and they're a part of the community that's often overlooked and doesn't feel welcome in a lot of spaces."

With files from Matt D'Amours

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