Health Association in New York State, Inc.
Community Connections, Spring 2003
Success Helps Mentally Ill
A program that helps people who suffer from mental illness to live independently has been such a success in Montreal that it’s being replicated elsewhere in the province.
L’Abri en ville started in 1991 after a multi-faith social activist group heard a talk about housing projects for people with mental illness.
“We just said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it,’” said Eleanor Beattie,65, a committee member at the time and co-founder of L’Abri en ville.
The plan was modest: to set up an apartment a year for 10 years. Each home would have three residents, and a network of volunteers from churches and synagogues or other faith-based groups. Volunteers would help residents with budgets, meals, shopping – or just accompany them out for a coffee.
The program is now a success. Most of the apartments are in Notre Dame de Grâce, and some residents do volunteer work themselves or hold down jobs.
“It was a very simple idea for Montreal,” Beattie said. “Ten apartments, 30 residents. Any larger, and we’d lose the intimacy of the project.”
The group reached its goal – to set up 10 apartments – last year, but that hasn’t stopped it from helping others to start their own versions of the program. L’Abri en ville received an $80,000 grant from the federal government last year to do just that.
A group in Châteauguay volunteers named their group after the Québec poet Émile Nelligan, who suffered from mental illness.
L’Abri en ville is writing a manual in English and French to guide groups setting up their own programs. It will advise new groups but will otherwise stay at arm’s length.
“It’s about creating a community,” Beattie said. “We’re not going to create a community if the groups have to travel or report to some head office.”
Rick Ottoni, 50 who as lived in an apartment set up by L’Abri en ville volunteers for more than seven years, thinks the program will be a success not matter where it opens.
“Once you have your inner circle,” Ottoni said, “you can feel more confident when you go out into society. That breaks society’s stereotypes about people with mental illness. It improves the whole community, I’d say.”