EDITORIALS  Sensitive Coverage, Accessible Support

Founded by a member of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in 1988, Open Door is a local shelter in Montreal that offers counselling along with referrals for both “mental health and drug addiction counsellors,” as well as “literacy training, bathroom and shower facilities, and employment assistance.” In December 2018, Open Door was forced to relocate from their former placement on Atwater to their current location on Park Avenue, after a condominium developer purchased the lot. The shelter garnered public attention following the resignation of Operations Manager Anastasia Dudley.

The Open Door shelter is a vital resource for the Milton- Parc community, especially Montreal’s disproportionate Indigenous homeless population, serving approximately 150 clients each day. The shelter is dedicated to allowing these individuals to preserve their culture, offering them space to eat and prepare country food, as well as having a dedicated carving room. Geta Etorolopiaq, a client of Open Door, also told The Linkhat the new location is preferable due to its proximity to the Native Friendship Centre on St. Laurent. According to APTN News, Open Door is also the only shelter in Montreal that accepts clients who have been using drugs or alcohol and clients with pets .

Operations Manager Dudley resigned from her position in October 2019 following a number of other staff resignations. These resignations came after the shelter’s director, David Chapman, was fired for insubordination in June. Chapman was not replaced, and the understaffing at Open Door has led to unsafe management.Since then, the shelter staff have been subjected to “instances of violence,” according to Dudley. One employee was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from physical assault. The shortage of employees has resulted in longer, more strenuous shifts with limited breaks. Zack Ingles, Dudley’s predecessor, told The Montreal Gazette:“ Sometimes, someone would be in a crisis and you just stay with them after your shift for hours […] There wasn’t any kind of robust support from [the Board of Directors]. You feel like you’re on your own sometimes.”

In an effort to improve working conditions, the shelter staff have been given OMEGA training, an intensive three-day conflict de-escalation course. Furthermore, the shelter has implemented a policy where there must be at least three people working at any given time.

However, as of October 2019, there are only four trained employees at Open Door – the rest of the labour is done by unpaid volunteers. Ruth Bresnen, who sits on Open Door’s Board of Directors, says that this understaffing is largely due to a lack of funds, as the shelter does not receive government funding and therefore relies on public grants and donations.

Recent media coverage of Open Door perpetuates harmful stereotypes about the homeless population. The Montreal Gazette ’s article sensationalizes the situation and misattributes Dudley’s resignation to her having witnessed an act of violence; however, her resignation was ultimately a symptom of the lack of a support system for crisis workers at the shelter. In an interview with the Daily, John Tessier, an intervention worker at Open Door, criticized this type of coverage, saying that “sometimes when people are in pain, if we’re not understanding the type of pain that they’re in, we may mischaracterize them […] it’s just not a true perception.” We must commit to providing accurate, responsible coverage of issues involving the homeless population.

As the shelter does not receive government funding, individuals and groups can offer support by making donations to the organization’s CanadaHelps page or contributing items such as food, clothing, and hygiene products. Individuals can help the shelter through volunteer labour, which they can get involved in by contacting the shelter by telephone at (514) 939-1970. It is also important to support the creation and maintenance of shelters that accommodate those who have been using drugs or alcohol. Additionally, we must pressure our elected officials to develop and fund housing initiatives that directly help the homeless population, and to be aware of the many factors that lead to homelessness, as well as the stigmatization of drug users and the criminalization of homeless people through targeted policing and racial profiling.

To hear the Daily’s full interview with John Tessier, visit the Unfit to Print section of mcgilldaily.com