News Story

Donation Modernizes Emergency Shelter Services in Montreal

The Old Brewery Mission (OBM) will begin a renovation project to revolutionize how services are provided at the Webster Pavilion thanks to a C$1 million donation ($769,230 USD) from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The donation, announced by Elder Michel Carter at an event held on Thursday, June 22, 2023, will allow one of Canada’s oldest and largest homeless shelters to modernize its emergency services, providing safer, healthier surroundings with increased privacy and dignity for residents.

The goal of the project is to transform the nine open-plan dormitories into semiprivate rooms, or chambrettes in French.

Chambrette Revolution

James Hughes, OBM president and CEO, explained, “There is no other place or sector where adults sleep in dormitories.” Hughes acknowledged that the OBM has made this dormitory situation work for many years and that it has helped, “but we can do better.”

The Webster Pavilion has the capacity to house 197 people in nine dormitories. Hughes noted that, over the next 18 months and without losing capacity, “These dormitories will become chambrettes, thanks to this incredible donation. We will do this work one dormitory at a time until it is done.”

In addition to providing more security, having individual space is a matter of dignity. “A chambrette has a bed, a chest of drawers, a closet to hang clothes, and (most importantly) a door. It is an individual space,” explained Hughes.

Elder Carter emphasized, “We have a profound belief and conviction in the dignity of all individuals. The work being done by the OBM is an inspiring example of this. We are happy to be an important contributor to this project that will add dignity and respect for the men coming here.”

Louis Audet, president of the OBM Board, and Roger Fournelle, president of the OBM Foundation Board, attended the launch event. Audet gave “an immense thank you to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who shows us not only that they live compassion and generosity but also ecumenism. It makes a real difference to us.”


Changing the Face of Homelessness

Hughes said the OBM experimented with converting dormitories into chambrettes at the Patricia Mackenzie women’s pavilion last year. The renovations had a major impact, Hughes noted, adding that “people are sleeping better” and that having a private space significantly improves a person’s sense of security.

The quality of interactions with the staff and other guests at the shelter also improved. Hughes emphasized that the housing upgrade “improves the quality of our work.” People experiencing homelessness who are well rested and feel secure can more readily be accompanied and helped in the work of leaving the shelter to find more permanent housing, he added.

This rethinking of how shelter space is organized is changing the face of homelessness. “The work of addressing homelessness can’t be done by a single group alone and will require community partnerships,” said Catherine Jarvis, co-communication director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Quebec area. “As a faith-based organization, we are putting our faith into action. We believe that we have a responsibility to care for those in need. We want to be part of the solution.”


From Soup Kitchen to Homeless Shelter

As part of the donation announcement, local Latter-day Saint leaders served the evening meal to OBM residents. Elder Carter’s wife, Danielle Delisle Carter, remarked, “We aren’t only here to give money, but we are also here to give time and service. And we are happy to do it.”


A group of 11 Latter-day Saint leaders, supported by the OBM kitchen staff, served more than 100 meals to shelter residents. G. Eric Jarvis, co-communication director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Quebec, said of the evening, “I loved interacting with and watching the faces of the men we were serving. They had experiences etched on their faces. They were humble and grateful.”

Serving dinner brought things full circle since the OBM was originally a soup kitchen. Over 130 years ago, two women, Mina Douglas and Eva Findlay, wanted to help during one particularly harsh winter by offering warm meals in a vacant building that once housed a brewery. Thus, the OBM was born. The OBM now works to meet the essential needs of Montreal’s homeless men and women while finding practical and sustainable solutions to end chronic homelessness.

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