Building Belonging: Community Action

As we continue our Vital Signs exploration on belonging and connection to community, we’re sharing stories of how community foundations across Canada are actively building belonging in their communities. Check out our second of three Belonging: Exploring Connection to Community reports released on October 2, 2016 that explores the connection between social participation and belonging.

In September of 2014, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre announced a plan to create a “homeless census”. He wanted to know exactly how many homeless people there were in the city, and what he could do to help them.

By the summer of the following year, Coderre had his figure: there were 3,016 people without permanent shelter in Montreal. 1,066 of them slept in shelters, 1,041 were in transitional housing, 429 were sleeping in the streets, and 404 were spread between hospitals, detention centres, and various mental health and addictions institutions. Each person was documented, and a face was given to each figure.

One of the main challenges that the city faced in trying to solve the issue of homelessness was that there were too many people who wanted to help in too many different ways. There simply wasn’t enough communication between all the different organizations. A person staying in a shelter might bounce between the police, a hospital, a social worker, and an addictions centre in a short period of time, but never receive all the help they needed.

In October 2015, Foundation of Greater Montreal (FGM) released its Vital Signs report and assembled a panel. It was time to get everyone who worked with the homeless in Montreal talking together, using information and data from Vital Signs as a springboard for discussion.

In addition to input from experts working in the industry, there were media and citizens in attendance, asking questions and learning more about the challenges faced.

The panel may not have solved every issue in a single night, but it opened up channels for discussion and collaboration that remain open. There has been an improvement in communication between all parties.

“There is a lot of collective work. … The four main shelters are working together – they meet regularly,” says FGM Director of Programs and Grants Diane Bertrand.

That FGM is playing a role in convening, organizing, and mediating has been key.

“It’s much more organized than it was. We know what we have to do to fix the problem. We have the police, the hospitals, meeting together regularly with a plan to put an end to homelessness.”

Bertrand was also complimentary of Coderre’s appointment of Montreal’s Homelessness Ombudsman Serge Lareault, who is also encouraging cooperation.

“He goes around, meets with organizations and reports back to the mayor what’s happening, and he looks over policies to make sure we’re moving ahead,” continued Bertrand.

Today, FGM is working as a partner with the organization Mouvement pour mettre fin à l’itinérance à Montréal (“Movement to end homelessness in Montreal”) to continue the work that has been kick-started at the panel last October.

Using Vital Signs as a departure point to organize and activate community resources and agencies is just one of the ways that Canadians can remind others in their communities that they belong.

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