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Quebec Social Services Minister Lionel Carmant speaks at a summit in Quebec City, on Sept. 15, 2023.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

For the first time since 1877, Montrealers without housing may soon be unable to get a hot meal at an Old Montreal soup kitchen.

Fiona Crossling, the general director of Accueil Bonneau, said her organization can no longer afford to serve people on weekends, and she warns that if it can’t secure stable provincial government funding, it will have to stop providing meals altogether next month.

“We’re operating at a deficit and we just don’t have the funds,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “We've announced that we will close weekends as of this coming weekend, but we’re doing everything we can to negotiate with the government to ensure that it doesn’t go any further.”

Crossling said her organization, which gives hot meals to around 400 people every morning, has done everything it can to avoid closing its food program. The province gave Accueil Bonneau emergency funding to keep it running through January, but Crossling says her organization has run a deficit for the past three years and can’t continue offering food without more help.

Quebec provides funding for emergency shelters – including meals for people staying in those facilities; however, it doesn’t help pay for meals offered by other organizations, including Accueil Bonneau, she said.

“It defies logic,” Crossling said. “Of the 400 people that come to us, half of them are literally on the streets, the other half are in precarious housing, they could be in rooming houses or they’re not able to afford their rent and food.”

Accueil Bonneau’s main mission is finding people housing – it offers transitional and permanent housing programs – but Crossling said hot meals are a necessity and a way to get people in the door. People who come for something to eat can meet with intervention workers and access other services, including help doing their taxes, she said, adding that people must file taxes to access social housing programs.

Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s minister responsible for social services, is scheduled to meet with the organization Wednesday, his spokesman Lambert Drainville said. Carmant and Health Minister Christian Dubé, he added, have each given the food kitchen $25,000 from their discretionary budgets to help it through January.

Crossling, who described the upcoming meeting as “encouraging” said her organization is looking for $1.2 million annually in stable funding from the government, including $700,000 for the food program.

While most of Accueil Bonneau’s budget comes from donations, she said stable government funding is needed so that the organization can focus on its mission, rather than always looking for short-term grants.

Guy, an Accueil Bonneau client who asked that his last name not be published, said it’s “the best place for healthy food.”

While other soup kitchens often serve donated leftovers, he said the food at Accueil Bonneau is fresh. “This one is better than a restaurant.”

Guy, who has been homeless since the 1990s, said people like him, who are used to moving around and seeking help from a range of organizations, will go elsewhere to eat. But low-income people who use Accueil Bonneau for company and a hot meal will be more affected by the potential closure.

Marie-Pier Therrien, a spokeswoman for the Old Brewery Mission, located a few blocks from Acceuil Bonneau, said it’s “sad and worrying” to hear that another organization serving people without homes is struggling.

She said the two organizations often work together and offer complementary services, with some people who stay at the Old Brewery’s shelter going to Acceuil Bonneau for a hot meal in the morning. Her organization offers food to hungry people who aren’t staying in the shelter, but it comes in the form of unsold sandwiches donated by Via Rail.

Therrien said her organization is in the process of expanding and will soon be open 24 hours a day to people who need a shower, something to eat or a place to sit inside. However, the number of people experiencing homelessness is rising in Montreal, she said.

Around 5,000 people are homeless in the city on any given night, Therrien said, and as housing has become more expensive in Montreal “we see a lot of new faces.”

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