Care Montreal: In God's Timing

A Congregation's Dream Impacts the Lives of Many

three workers at shelter“We had prayed for God to give us a mission so large that it would be obvious that he is involved and we aren’t doing it on our own,” says Michel Monette, director of Care Montreal, catalyzer minister for MCEC and former pastor and church planter at Hochma, an MCEC congregation in Quebec. 

“Our dream was to increase space at Hochma so we could meet more needs in our community,” says Michel. Through an MCEC grant and with the help of many volunteers through Mennonite Disaster Service and from MCEC congregations, Hochma was able to increase their capacity by remodeling the basement. 

In 2019 Hochma opened their building to their neighbourhood as Care Montreal. From November to April, they provided a place to sleep for people who were homeless – an out-of-the-cold shelter. On Sunday mornings, people who had slept in the shelter would lend a hand in setting up for Sunday service, have breakfast and stay to hear the message and participate in worship. 

"The explosion was atomic. We went from 60 - 300 beds."

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced Canada into lockdown, shelters felt the impact. Because of the need to social distance, the health department closed many shelters across Montreal. Others greatly decreased their capacity. A camp outside of the city where people who were homeless lived was also closed. Many people lost their jobs and life became desperate. The need for beds certainly outweighed the capacity Michel and his team could offer. 

Care Montreal found itself quickly changing from offering a place to sleep for people who were homeless, to a shelter that was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Instead of asking people to leave after breakfast and go to another agency to meet employment, medical or housing needs, we remained open and offered all of those services,” says Michel. “It began to build trust.” 

Not only did Montreal shelters notice the difference in the way that Care Montreal functioned, but so did others, including various levels of government. Care Montreal’s capacity began to grow. 

A former YMCA building became available to Michel and his team and the displaced people from the camp were housed. A former hotel also became a part of Care Montreal, resulting in a total of 300 beds available to the community. Care Montreal moved from an organization of less than 10 employees and 40 volunteers struggling on a tight budget to an organization of 180 employees and 30 volunteers with financial assistance from local, provincial and federal governments. 

“The explosion was atomic,” says Michel. “We went from an out-of-the-cold shelter open from November to April with 60 beds to 300 beds in our shelters open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year!” 

“We don’t know what the new normal will be for people who are homeless but we dream that it will be for them to have a home."

Care Montreal buildingA staff comprised of social workers, medical personnel, pastors and other professionals work with the residents to find permanent homes, employment, assist in budgeting and household management and more. Other established shelters in the city have begun to modify their operations to 24-hour care, modelled after Care Montreal. 

“If people are in a position of chronic homelessness, we work hard to make that disappear,” explains Michel. “We don’t know what the new normal will be for people who are homeless but we dream that it will be for them to have a home. We will be with them in whatever way they need us to be.” 

The Care Montreal board maintains a strong connection to the Hochma congregation. Members of the congregation, along with many MCEC pastors and church planters, are actively involved on the board and within the organization. 

“This was started as a call from God to transform our neighbourhood,” says Michel. “We do not judge any person by their behavior or way of thinking, nor will we turn anyone away no matter their circumstances. God accepts everyone in any situation so we do the same.”