For more than 20 years L'Abri en Ville has helped keep former mental health patients off the streets by providing people with an apartment, roommates, and a support network.

Yale-educated architect George Harris has an impressive portfolio but his promising career was cut short by schizophrenia.

"I went to work for three years then I was hospitalized," said Harris.

He continues to deal with his condition but has help from friends, two roommates who also struggle with mental illness.

Harris said living in an apartment in NDG with others makes life much easier.

"The friendship aspect of things is incredible. I lived alone for three years and I wouldn't recommend that to anybody, much less a person with mental illness."

L'Abri en Ville has established 10 apartments throughout Montreal, so that roommates -- always three to a home -- can help each other live independent lives.

Sean Cahill used L'Abre en Ville's services while he learned to cope with his mental illness, and he had nothing but praise for the program that gave structure to his life.

"It gives you a reason to clean, to cook for yourself," said Sean Cahill.


Housing isn't the only thing provided for residents at L'Abri en Ville. The organization also provides activities, workshops and social events for its 30-member group.

Board member Nancy Grayson says the residents handle their own daily lives but they are never alone or on their own.

"We have teams of volunteers that offer support and friendship to the people in the apartments," Grayson said. "There's a sense of belonging, a sense of having a place in the world, and a contribution to make."

Former residents have nothing but praise for the program.

"They encourage you to do well," said Renee Drouin, who learned how to cope and be on her own.

Others say L'Abri en Ville provides a structure, and by having roommates who also have mental illnesses they learn how to deal with others, and themselves.

The program won a national mental health award in October and its model is now being copied by other mental illness support groups.

Residents like Rick Ottoni say L'Abri en Ville is giving them a new lease on life as part of a community.

"This actually has been like a new life for me, it's a second chance."