(Pamplemousse/Mercier-Est) Closed since 2015, Saint-Victor Church will host a project for seniors facing homelessness, an initiative of le PAS de la rue.

With an estimated cost of $15 million, the project entitled "Un second pas" will provide forty new housing units adapted for people 55 years and older who are homeless or susceptible to becoming so. This is an expertise that the organization le PAS de la rue has been developing since its founding, almost twenty years ago.

This affordable housing will be a fusion of modernity and heritage, as some aspects of the religious building built in 1926, such as the bell tower and the facade, will be preserved. The first third of the church will be preserved and will house a day centre for the elderly. The remaining two thirds will be demolished to make room for an inner courtyard. The former presbytery will also be knocked down to make room for the housing.

"Of this amount, $7 million will be used to build a 35-unit housing cooperative for families," said Robert Beaudry, Director of le PAS de la rue. "This will allow us to create an inclusive environment where people who are 55 and over will have the chance to find a new home, while avoiding ghettoing and promoting social diversity."

The objective of this project is to give seniors an opportunity to reintegrate, by not only giving them a roof, but also access to services, customized support, and community resources in the area, etc. "We have developed an innovative approach that places people at the centre of the services and that will prove useful, as the population is aging," explained Jean-Paul Pratte, Chairperson of the organization's board of directors, during the press conference on June 12, 2017.

"People 55 years of age and over are particularly susceptible to the problem of homelessness," said the Director General. Indeed, it only takes an event like a bereavement, job loss or illness to push some isolated seniors into this situation. "Furthermore, we find that today, 50% of the people who sleep in shelters are 50 years of age and older. As the neighbourhood has a substantial aging population, setting up in Mercier-Est made a lot of sense," he added.

A reality that affects all of Montreal

Although homelessness is usually associated with the big city, this problem can also be found away from the major urban centres. "It is estimated that 50% of the homeless population is concentrated downtown, and the rest is scattered in outlying neighbourhoods such as Mercier-Est, one of the places where homelessness is usually hidden," explained Serge Lareaul, founder of the Magazine L'Itinéraire, who was named protector of homeless people by the City of Montreal.

"Others are skating on such thin ice that the smallest thing could cause them to lose everything," he added. "The risk is so great for some people, that a simple $10 or $15/month increase in rent would be enough to put them out on the streets." This project helps create infrastructure for people in the neighbourhood without a stable address, while there are very few resources for them, as was shown in a report by the Réseau d'aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSîM). "What is innovative about it is the fact that this living environment will become a part of the East-end," added Serge Lareault.

"Un second PAS" is a first such project for this NPO, which already manages a similar resource downtown. "It is interesting to create a project that will allow people to stay in the surroundings they find familiar, rather than sending them to more central neighbourhoods,' said Robert Beaudry.

Even though the financing has not yet been finalized, le PAS de la rue has been the owner of the church, on the corner of Hector and Hochelaga, since March 2017. To achieve this, the community group received support from Ottawa. The group is now hoping to receive funding from Accès Logis and donations from private partners for the housing. "We would like for everything to be completed by 2019," said Robert Beaudry.