By William Crooks
Local Journalism Initiative
A Sherbrooke day centre for those at risk of homelessness, Ma Cabane’s clientele numbers are holding steady at around 80 per day but could very well rise. The centre, situated on King East, opened its doors back in Jan. of 2021.
“[Attendance] is starting to go up a little bit,” said General Director Marc St-Louis, referring to the daily clientele at Ma Cabane. This summer they served around 80 people per day. Last February and March they had days with upwards of 140 people. It is not, however, a simple equation, he explained, where warm weather means less people and cold weather means more. The only constant is there are less people at the beginning of the month.
St-Louis worries numbers will get high again this winter. At first, they regulated how many clientele they would let in at a time to a maximum of 10. Now they let in up to 40, “which is too much,” he admitted.
Nurses visit in the afternoons on Thursday, and a woman will begin coming next week to do foot care. His clientele walk a lot, St-Louis said, and their feet are often cold for long periods, so they are not in good shape. “We will see what the response is,” he noted. Ma Cabane offers four or five activities throughout the month, such as bowling and writing workshops.
Food insecurity is ever-present among its clientele. Ma Cabane offers snacks every afternoon they receive from the Rock-Guertin Foundation. They have distributed $15,000 worth this year alone but will likely run out next week until January.
Saint-Louis’ clientele are often on social assistance, which is just under $800 a month. “Do the math,” he urged, you either pay rent or eat but not both. This is “aggravated” by the current rising costs of lodging and food. “It’s difficult.”
All kinds come through Ma Cabane’s doors. Some are housed, some not. Many clients visit to feel less isolated, he noted. Just because you have a house, it does not mean your problems are over, he added. Many are in a precarious situation, and at risk. Often, they do not have a good background to get a job and are uneducated or have mental health issues. “We don’t ask questions,” he said, “if you come here, it is because you need to.”
St-Louis gave an example highlighting the discouraging challenges many of his clientele face. One man was released from prison in 2002 and has not broken the law since. Still, he cannot find a place to live because property-owners will reject his application based on his criminal record alone.
Ma Cabane will take non-perishable foods as donations. They will also take animal food, for many of their clients have pets and have difficulty feeding them. “Obviously, we also take money,” St-Louis said. Their financing is not guaranteed, he explained, but they should be okay for the next three to four years.
Homelessness is a complicated phenomenon, he insisted. By definition, the homeless have more than one problem. Some people say that people choose that way of life, but St-Louis urges us to consider what it is that must have preceded the choice to not know where you will sleep, what you will eat, and to be looked down upon by society. “Be careful with your judgments.”