Introduction

When this project began, just before the start of the pandemic, we didn’t think we would be going through such major social upheavals in such a short space of time. We had seen a number of profound shifts in the community sector over the years that interested us for this project, whether at the macro level in philanthropy, volunteering, or journalism, or at the micro level in the inclusion of diversity and IT resource management, but we had no idea how much transformation would take place in the next two years.

Because, let’s face it, recent years have completely and profoundly changed our society and our systems.

Some of us work in homelessness, and if there’s one area where everything has had to adapt to better meet people’s needs, it’s this one. All the leaders of organisations have found themselves faced with extreme distress, both from people experiencing homelessness and from staff.

We all had to adapt quickly to the global shock of a pandemic, to successive confinements, to the horror of thousands of deaths. We had to live with political leaders making decisions for us. We often felt powerless in the face of so much change. On more than one occasion, those involved had to get their act together to find solutions for accommodating people while taking COVID-19 into account. This created hot zones, red zones, overflow zones, and yellow zones. In addition, winter measures had to be drawn up quickly in emergency situations and on short notice.

Meanwhile, other crises are being added to this pandemic. The housing crisis is creating a real shortage of affordable housing, displacing hundreds of people living in precarious conditions. This is adding to the homelessness crisis we are experiencing in Montreal and elsewhere in the world.

During the pandemic, we all saw more people experiencing visible homelessness. We can say, even without counting, that homelessness has increased. I would go even further: our policies and our improvisation in dealing with the most vulnerable people are creating homelessness. And yet there is an urgent need to resolve housing-related issues as quickly as possible, to stop letting rental stock disintegrate and become an investment or a commodity, to stop short-term renting, to stop tolerating the lack of space in shelters for women who have experienced domestic violence.

The climate crisis is upon us. We are one spark away from everything on earth going up in flames, and this too is having an impact on the most vulnerable people. We are welcoming more migrants from all over the world, people displaced for various reasons, including droughts, floods, and other disasters.

Various shortages cause inflation. Ongoing wars cause more shortages. And all that is without mentioning the palpable distress and mental health of many people who are not doing well, who are anxious, who can’t take it anymore, and who have reached their limit. Since 2020 things have been difficult, and we’ve had to adapt as best we could. But we still have a long way to go.

In this context, the articles we’ve written can support those tasked with the transformation that will most certainly take place in most not-for-profit organisations in the coming years. This resource, written collaboratively by the authors, is intended to support those courageous people who will be leading society’s social sector in the years to come.

Michèle Chappaz
Executive director

Movement to End Homelessness in Montréal