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West Island left with no homeless shelter after Ricochet forced to close its doors

Article and image from CBC News. Read the article online.

Tania Charron, Executive Director of Ricochet (Hébergement/Homes).

Tania Charron spent the morning distributing survival kits to around 50 vulnerable people who in a couple of days will lose the only homeless shelter in Montreal's West Island.

The Ricochet Centre in Pierrefonds, of which Charron is the executive director, will be forced to close its doors temporarily after its lease expires at the end of May. After three years, and four lease extensions, Charron's search for a new space has come up empty-handed.

"It's really hard to look at humans and proposing as the only solution a tent and a blanket," she said. "I don't think that should happen in 2024."

Louis Rouillard was among those who received one of those kits which included a backpack, sleeping pad, some food, bus tickets and flyers detailing the services Ricochet will continue to offer in the meantime. He's been in and out of the shelter over the last two years.

At age 64, he says he'll likely resort to living in a tent for now.

"The homeless, we are really, truly persecuted," he said. "In my lived experience, there's people that end up in the street that have a life story that's amazing. Like there's good people — treasures. But we're put aside," he said. 

Ricochet has been operating in a building owned by the Montreal West Island health authority, which was always meant to be temporary since the shelter opened in 2020. In April, the authority told Ricochet it could not extend the lease past May because the space was intended for young people in rehabilitation, it told CBC News in a statement.  

Last fall, Charron and her team with the support of the Pierrefonds–Roxboro borough and the city of Montreal secured a building that will only become available in January 2025 after major renovations.

At the end of April, the team identified another building, only to find out it was too severely contaminated for use. 

"We're now May 29 and we have nowhere to go," said Charron. 

In a statement, Robert Beaudry, the executive committee member responsible for homelessness, said the city is meeting with Quebec's social services minister today to try and find a solution to Ricochet's lack of space.

The system is broken, says executive director

Charron says she's approached several owners over the years but prejudice on top of complex zoning bylaws that change from borough to borough — and municipality to municipality in the West Island — have complicated the search.

"Some people are still scared. They don't understand what we do, how we do it" said Charron. "You know, we're leaving [our current address] today and there's nothing broken."

She adds that running a community organization feels like playing a game of ping-pong with different governing bodies — the city, boroughs, province, the health authority — all of which have different responsibilities. Rouillard has felt that tension as well throughout his experience in and out of shelters. 

"I think the management of shelters should be unified," he said.

Ricochet is not the only shelter that's been forced to close. In downtown Montreal, women's shelter Chez Doris was forced to suspend its activities for a couple months in the fall due to staffing shortages, while the Hôtel-Dieu shelter is set to close in July. 

"This is just a symptom of a system that is broken," said Charron. 

Ricochet will continue to offer harm-reduction services, support with housing searches and its shuttle service which brings food, mail and supplies to people experiencing homelessness in the West Island and Lachine borough — a population that Charron says is growing.

"It became almost impossible to find affordable housing on the West Island particularly and it's becoming more and more dangerous to live on the streets," she said. 

In theory, Ricochet should relocate to its new space in January 2025, if it doesn't find another temporary space sooner.

"I don't use the word 'for sure' anymore," said Charron. "I thought I was sure so many times that everything was going well."

Community has always been important to Rouillard and he says and he'll keep in touch with Charron. In the meantime, he'll continue to lean on and support those in the same situation as him. 

"We're a community in a sense like a … community of misery," he said. 


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