'A more dignified space': Old Brewery Mission converts dorms into semi-private rooms at women's shelter

Montreal is seeing a ‘significant increase’ in number of women experiencing homelessness.

Article content

The Old Brewery Mission said goodbye to its last dormitory-style lodgings for unhoused women on Thursday. In the same area where more than two dozen women once slept in an open room packed with bunk beds and were devoid of privacy, there are now 13 semi-private rooms with space for two women each.

The small rooms or “chambrettes” at the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion feature a bunk bed, lockers for personal possessions, a plug for the phone and, most importantly, a door.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

The transformation is part of a transition toward giving more privacy to male and female clients to speed their entry back into stable housing.

“Everyone coming into homelessness is living in a form of profound instability and sometimes even panic,” said James Hughes, president of the Old Brewery Mission. “They’ve lost all relationships, they have no one to turn to. What we need is to get them into a calm, quiet, stable space — exactly the opposite of what they entered with.”

Dormitory-style rooms common to emergency housing shelters is effective in terms of space and cost, but the close quarters and lack of privacy can generate conflict and tension, as well as insecurity over theft. Open-dorm shelters can be particularly traumatic for women experiencing homelessness for the first time, many of whom are fleeing abusive relationships.

Staff at the Patricia Mackenzie Pavilion noted that when they converted the dorms into private rooms on other floors, sleep quality improved and the sense of anxiety and insecurity went down. That in turn improved the clinical environment for intervention workers trying to create a relationship of trust and help residents find a way out.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“It turned out with the women on the other floor, it became a much calmer and dignified space for them, and a more efficient space for us to do our work in,” Hughes said.

In total, 46 women can be housed at the pavilion, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Thursday. The Old Brewery Mission was founded in 1889 and is the largest resource in Quebec for men experiencing homelessness, and the largest in Canada for women.

The conversion to improve emergency shelter spaces is especially important as the number of women experiencing homelessness in the province grows, Hughes said. The last count of visible unhoused people in Quebec found that women accounted for 23 per cent of unhoused individuals in 2022, up from 20 per cent in 2018. Overall, the number of visible unhoused people, half of whom reside in Montreal, increased by 44 per cent in the space of four years.

“There really is a significant increase in the number of women in homelessness,” Hughes said. “Really, the feminization of homelessness is before us.”

Related Stories

The conversion took three months and cost $300,000, donated in large part by the Liverant family that has been giving to the Pavilion for decades. The project was also supported by the W.P. Scott Charitable Foundation, the Oka & Grégoire Foundation and Mary-Pat Hébert.

The GRS Architecture firm, Anbec Construction and Alex Shield Design took care of the creation and building of the new space.

[email protected]

Advertisement 4

Article content

Article content

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *