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Tight on cash, West Island shelter hopes fundraiser tournament will give it the boost it needs

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The centre recorded over 6,000 visits in 7 months

Peter Lynburner has been practically living at the Ricochet community shelter in Montreal's West Island for a year and a half. He's been homeless for four. 

"I'm just trying to find an apartment where I can get back my own life," he says. "Everything is way out of my price range."

He wandered the streets of downtown Montreal for several months before discovering the centre and moving out west. The shelter on Château-Pierrefonds Avenue offers 22 emergency beds where people can stay for up to 14 days and 30 beds for people in its residential support program like Lynburner.

"It's all denominations that are here because of the cost of housing these days," he says. "Everybody's in the boat."

According to David Dorrance, the president of Ricochet's board of directors, the shelter serves a large swath of the population from Saint-Lazare, Que., to the Lachine borough. He says the homelessness situation in the area is "dire" and that the number of people in need has shot up in recent years.

"We have over 300 homeless youth in the West Island, countless, countless more senior people [and] people losing homes," says Dorrance.

Over the weekend, the shelter is organizing a softball tournament fundraiser in Dorval to keep the centre's services going. Tania Charron, the executive director of Ricochet, says it's also an opportunity to raise awareness about the situation. 

"We often talk about what's going on downtown, but there's poverty here in the West Island," says Charron.

Ricochet is also limited in what it can do because most of its money is tied to specific projects through government grants, she says. Charron is hoping they can raise  $20,000, a sum that would help the centre operate more independently.

Aside from the shelter, Ricochet offers laundry and outreach services. It also runs a shuttle to transport people to and from places like the hospital or even other shelters if space runs out. 

Mathieu Papineau works the overnight shift at the Ricochet emergency shelter, and he says turning people down never gets easier. 

"It's heart-wrenching," he says. "We have to get creative during the evening to find a way to get them somewhere else where they sleep and spend the night inside and not outside."

He hopes the shelter will eventually amass enough funds to expand and hire more staff.

Dorrance says that last part has become increasingly difficult and the rising cost of living is creating ripple effects on all the organizations supporting the unhoused community.

"Everyone's having trouble at the same time," he says. "Everything is harder and the people in the community are experiencing that — there's more mental health issues...It's getting very serious at this point."

Last week, in response to the rising number of people experiencing homelessness, Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant announced $15.5 million in new funding for Quebec shelters.

Charron says Ricochet needs $2 million a year to function properly. Considering the number of shelters in Montreal alone, she says the math simply doesn't add up.

Addressing a short-term need

Dorrance says several of the people walking through Ricochet's doors only need support to fulfil a short-term need, the time to get back on their feet. 

One man has recently made several visits to the centre proactively in preparation for when his lease expires in two months. He doesn't have the money to renew it and sought out the centre for help.

That's the kind of work Dorrance wants Ricochet to do more of — reaching people before they fall into crisis. 

"This is not like palliative care," says Dorrance. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Over the 2022-2023 period, 40 per cent of those registered in Ricochet's residential support program were able to find housing, according to its annual report. It also shows that between Sept. 2022 and March, the emergency shelter and residential support programs recorded around 6,800 visits. 

Lynburner says he hopes the government will add more affordable housing options to reduce the number of people relying on the shelter.

Charon agrees. "To fight homelessness we nee a global approach," she says.

"We need shelters, we need outreach street work, we need social housing, and we need a government and a system that is easy to navigate."


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