Our story begins in 2002 when L’Abri en Ville, a Montreal non-profit organization that offers sheltered housing for people with mental illness, determined that it had grown to an optimal capacity and that the best way to expand was to set up similar organizations in other parts of Canada. The Board of L’Abri en Ville received a federal grant from a program designed to reduce the number of homeless people in Canada. Our journey had begun.
The first meeting of Our Harbour was held in the basement of St. Francis of Assisi Church in the spring of 2003. About 40 people showed up and many of these remain loyal today. Many had family members or close friends who were living with mental illness; others were concerned about the impact on caregivers; some were aware of the total lack of sheltered accommodation for Anglophones on the South Shore; and some, like those from Ami-Québec, had been talking about such an organization for many years.
What impressed us all was the simplicity of the model and the relatively small amount of money needed to significantly improve the quality of life of at-risk members of our community, alleviate the stress on their families and at the same time reduce the pressure on over-crowded hospital emergency services.
A steering committee chose a name and a logo and we incorporated in July 2003. We had a shared conviction that together we could create something worthwhile. We soon received charitable status from the Government of Canada. We held our first meeting in September 2003. A board was elected and the serious work began.
We set up two committees (Outreach and Funding) in order to recruit volunteers and to raise sufficient money to establish an office, hire a coordinator and operate one apartment for a year.
It was an inspiring time.
Donations were received from individuals and the local churches. The Edith and John Low-Beer (EJLB) Foundation gave substantial seed funding. Other major sources of start-up funding were the Anglican Diocese of Montreal and a federal grant through L’Abri en Ville.
The first apartment opened in July 2003; a coordinator was hired, furniture was collected and an apartment was found. The landlord was sympathetic to mental illness and was, and still is, supportive of our mission. Our Harbour still rents apartments (now four) from this same landlord.
The number of apartments grew gradually from one to five over the next 13 years. Our team of more than 30 volunteers gave tirelessly of both their physical and emotional energy to assure that our residents have friends, go out; live in clean, well-maintained apartments and eat well.
In 2016, our application for funding under the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) Homelessness Partnering Strategy (Stratégie des partenariats de lutte contre l’itinérance or SPLI) program was successful and funding was granted to open three more apartments.
The Board, which had previously done all of the day-to-day administration and financial work, realized this model was not sustainable for the long term. A Director-General was hired to help manage the growth.
Since then, all three new apartments have been successfully opened, bringing the total number of apartments to eight, providing caring, supported housing to 24 people living with mental illness.
The three-year SPLI-funded project ended on March 31, 2019. Our Harbour has successfully applied for two-year transitional funding from the ESDC Reaching Home Program for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.
Our journey continues.
excerpted from the 2018-2019 Activity Report