During last week’s hour-long lecture in Westmount’s Atwater Library, Matthew Pearce once again reminded his audience why charity must be more than “...just a soup kitchen and a bed.”
“Shelters were originally conceived as an emergency option and not as permanent housing for the destitute,” said Pearce. “So our goal is not to warehouse people but to help as many as we can to re-integrate back into society. Our ultimate mission is to end homelessness as we know it.”
As both the President and the Chief Executive Officer of Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission, Pearce told his audience that he is determined to properly define what it really means to be homeless on the streets of this city. Even if it’s been one hundred and twenty five years after Mary Finley and Mina Douglas first welcomed their clients to the Old Brewery Mission, Pearce told his audience that his board, his staff and over a 100 other assorted organizations are still working hard to help people who call the city’s subway, its parks or some quiet corner in a downtown apartment building’s garage ‘home’.
Following a brief description of the Mission’s history over the past century, Pearce told his audience that its vocation has changed and that it is no longer and that “...we’re not there just to soothe the problems of the homeless as much as it’s up to us to solve the problems that lead to people being homeless.”
While using a power-point demonstration, Pearce stressed the point that “...doing good is just not good enough.” Even as the Mission is busy providing what is sometimes a life-saving service (especially in the winter), Pearce is determined to reform and expand its facilities in order to help people break out of the cycle of poverty that inevitably leads to the street.
“We must have reliable data,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get a good idea as to how many people are actually out there on the street.”
To that end, and for the first time in the city’s history, staff and volunteers from all of the city’s major street-level charities will hit the streets over a single day (and night) in order to do an elementary census of the city’s homeless population.
“Those numbers will provide with a statistical tool by which we can evaluate the success (or failure) of all of our various programs,” said Pearce.
Once they have the numbers, Pearce believes all of the city’s poverty activists can begin to work out the coherent and comprehensive approach they will need in order to help fight, and finally solve the front-line problems that occur when you’re both poor and homeless in the city. Priorities include putting an end to the endless multiplication of assorted programs and initiatives that inevitably delete the resources people need to help deal with the extreme street-level poverty in this city.
“We must knit all of the federal, provincial and municipal programs into one coherent and comprehensive approach,” said the veteran activist as he described the massive duplication of effort and resources on the part of all three levels of government.
As a street-wise activist, Pearce remains an optimist because, according to him, most of the city’s homeless are going through what usually ends up as being a brief slough of bad times after which the Mission’s records indicate that only 5% of their clients can be defined as ‘chronically homeless’. While there are many reasons why some men (and women) may prefer the streets to having any other kind of home, Pearce said mental illness has a lot to do with such decisions and there’s a lot that can be done to help these people. While immediate measures such as rent banks, on-site medical and psychiatric care along with a good, nutritious meal when you need one, Pearce continues to believe that affordable housing for the poor will always be the ultimate weapon by which society can help the homeless.
“As of now,” said Pearce,”... we’re doing everything we can to turn the Old Brewery Mission into a gateway people can use to get off the street.”