Sports Pandemic forces Montreal's shelters to plan a different kind of Thanksgiving

01:56  10 october  2020
01:56  10 october  2020 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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a person preparing food in a kitchen: Camellia Perry, the head cook at Chez Doris, prepares turkey for Thanksgiving dinners on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. © Provided by The Gazette Camellia Perry, the head cook at Chez Doris, prepares turkey for Thanksgiving dinners on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020.

The Ville Émard resident, who has six kids and also cares for her teenage nephew, said with her kids back at school, it seems she is always in isolation awaiting a COVID-19 test.

“With seven children in the house, they go for testing whenever one of them has a runny nose,” she said in a phone interview. “I’ve already gone for six tests and every time, we have to isolate at home.”

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Starr is one of about 100 vulnerable women who will benefit from a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings delivered to her door by the women’s day shelter Chez Doris .

“I usually try to have a dinner on Thanksgiving because I have two kids who are born in October,” said Starr, who received a depression and anxiety disorder diagnosis last year. “But I really didn’t plan a Thanksgiving dinner; I was just hoping to get by. When I received a call that we were going to have Thanksgiving dinner delivered, I was really happy because I don’t really have anything.”

Usually, Chez Doris hosts a traditional Thanksgiving meal for about 100 women at its facility. This year, however, it will be delivering meals to 100 women and their families on Saturday. On Monday, the shelter will host a small lunch and dinner of turkey sandwiches with gravy for homeless women only. About 30 people are expected to attend each of the meals.

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“We can’t have more people than that because of social distancing requirements,” explained Marina Boulos-Winton, the executive director of Chez Doris.

Boulos-Winton said the pandemic has forced Chez Doris to add more services to deal with the increasing number of people who are homeless or in vulnerable situations.

“Up to 25 per cent of our clientele are new; they’re experiencing homelessness for the first time,” she said.

Chez Doris has increased its budget by $750,000 to $3.1 million, which allowed the day shelter to hire more staff to extend its closing time from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. The facility’s budget for cleaning has also doubled, Boulos-Winton said.

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“It’s become a super-expensive operation,” Boulos-Winton said. “It’s thanks to the emergency funds and the grants and donations that we received that we can keep going, and in some cases, keep some women alive.”

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Over at the Welcome Hall Mission, a 17-year tradition of having Thanksgiving dinner served by players from the Montreal Alouettes has come to an end because of health concerns, and the fact that the CFL season is cancelled and most players have left the city.

“Our clients are usually really excited about that night,” said Chelsea Dufort, a spokesperson for the shelter. “It’s a little bit disappointing, but (the Alouettes) have made a donation that will go towards the meal as a way to stay involved.”

Dufort said the shelter will instead be hosting a meal with holiday food, and it will be serving about half as many people as usual, with a little more than 100 expected to be accommodated over several shifts — those who will spend the night at the shelter.

At the Old Brewery Mission, a traditional meat pie with mashed potatoes will be served with hot apple pie for those who will be staying overnight at the shelter. It will also have a takeout service for others.

Melissa Bellerose, the vice-president of communications for the Old Brewery Mission, said this has been a difficult time for those living on the margins. She believes the city’s homeless population — estimated at about 3,000 — in 2018 has increased significantly.

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“What we’re seeing is that the pandemic exacerbated people who were already in precarious positions,” Bellerose said.

Dufort said the Welcome Hall Mission has also seen a 20-per-cent jump in those using its free grocery service.

A visual representation of the homelessness problem can be seen on the grassy hill on the north side of Notre-Dame St. E, east of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, where dozens have set up a tent city . Bellerose said the mission has sent outreach workers to those living there to offer them services. She said the shelter is ready to provide housing for the winter months when it will be dangerous to sleep outside.

Organizations helping those most vulnerable are hurting. Many fundraising activities have had to be cancelled, and there is a greater client base to serve. Bellerose said as people are sitting down and giving thanks this weekend, they should spare a thought for those most vulnerable.

“I have to say that Montrealers have been very generous, and have shown a great deal of compassion towards people who are homeless,” she said. “There has been an outpouring of well wishes and support.”




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