Photo credit: Martin Laporte

Giving back

Housing help in the streets of Montreal

Apr 14, 2024

Quebec has been hit hard by the homelessness crisis, with the number of people living on the street up by 44% in the past five years. While financial uncertainty, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol consumption are still important issues, evictions represent the biggest tipping point into homelessness. That’s why the Old Brewery Mission and TELUS have joined forces to provide this marginalized population with both healthcare and assistance in finding long-term housing.

Brian Busby is quite familiar with life on the street – he’s experienced it many times since the age of 19. He had access to an apartment until quite recently, but had to leave it for reasons outside of his control, and again found himself without the safety and security of a home.

Without affordable housing, Brian might have to spend a number of weeks in an emergency shelter like the Old Brewery Mission’s.

Nicholas Singcaster and Brian Busby

“Since July, my life has been kind of on hold. All I want is to have a roof over my head.”

- Brian Busby, Old Brewery Mission mobile clinic user

Brian is one of the over 235,000 people nationwide who experience homelessness each year. In Montreal and throughout Canada, the cost of living, the housing crunch, the opioid crisis and complex mental health challenges have driven the number of people experiencing homelessness or living in financial uncertainty to record levels. Many of them also have trouble getting access to traditional healthcare services.

Photo credit: Lisa Sakulensky

Reaching marginalized people where they are

Nicholas Singcaster, a staff member at Old Brewery Mission, is faced every day with this alarming situation linked to the rise in homelessness. In his work with partner organizations or near encampments, he meets many marginalized people in serious distress.

After fifteen years working with homeless populations, Nicholas could easily have developed a thick skin. But stories like Brian’s still affect him strongly. “There’s an older gentleman I see frequently who recently told me he didn’t have the strength to spend another winter outdoors,” he says. “That really gets to me.”

Nicholas is also a key part of the Old Mission Brewery’s mobile clinic, powered by TELUS Health. Since last spring, the mobile clinic has been patrolling the streets of Montreal and opening its doors to provide primary care and psychosocial support for marginalized populations.

The users of this safe space come here to get healthcare, harm reduction supplies, legal assistance and help navigating the administrative processes needed to support their social reintegration. The clinic offers help finding housing, as well as assistance with preparing a tax return, regularizing their RAMQ file, and obtaining emergency housing – all necessary services in the process of finding long-term housing.

Since the clinic launched in April, the mobile team has provided over 2,700 services.

“An initiative like this lets us reach out to people where they are. We take our expertise outside of traditional offices and adapt our services to the reality on the ground and to people living in public spaces.”

- Mila Alexova, local services coordinator, Old Brewery Mission

As a mobile clinic worker, Nicholas welcomes people, makes connections and builds the trust that’s essential to this kind of work. He maintains a discreet presence to let users take advantage of the clinic’s services with dignity and confidentiality. He’s also the kind of worker who notices when a regular hasn’t come around in a while, and who’ll make a concentrated effort to locate them. Many clinic visitors, including Brian, agree that Nicholas is the “best worker” they’ve met here.

“A small miracle”

Montreal’s vulnerable communities need big-hearted people like Nicholas and his coworkers at the mobile clinic, but they also need long-term solutions. Emergency shelters fall far short of meeting the growing demand, especially in terms of housing, as Old Brewery Mission coordinator Mila Alexova notes: “TELUS is more than a financial backer, it’s a real partner that shares our vision and draws on its experience with other mobile clinics across the country to keep improving. The project with TELUS Health for Good has been a small miracle for us.”

TELUS Health for Good™ by the numbers

  • Over 50,000 services provided at TELUS Health for Good mobile clinics in 2023

  • A $13 million commitment through 2026

  • 36% of users would otherwise have no access to care

  • 25 communities served in Canada since the start of the program.