In a weekly gathering called “Country Food” aboriginal women from Montreal come together at Chez Doris to share their culture and traditions.

The gathering is part of the day shelter’s collective kitchen workshops where women within the shelter exchange cooking skills, or showcase their cultural specialties, three times a week. Fridays are reserved especially for Inuit women.

 “I just feel blessed, and I love sharing — helping out others, sharing our country food,” said Connie, a volunteer cook who also happens to be one of the shelter’s clients.

Chez Doris has been a beacon of comfort for Montreal’s homeless women for nearly 40 years, providing food, clothes, and relative comfort to those in need.

The shelter recently extended its services to the Inuit community through its Aboriginal Housing Program which was launched in 2015 in a partnership with the Makivik Corporation and Service Canada.

Through the resources rendered by case workers, officials at Chez Doris project that at least 24 aboriginal women will obtain access to permanent housing by 2019.

Sarah Da Ponte, a case worker at the shelter, is charged with getting Inuit women off the streets as part of the program, helping them to sign leases and ultimately live autonomously.

Da Ponte explained that she also acts as a liaison for the women, ensuring that they attend medical follow-ups or other critical appointments.

A city-wide census conducted in 2015 revealed that Aboriginal persons represent approximately 10 per cent of Montreal’s homeless population, and constitute a large portion of Chez Doris’ clientele.

The executive director of Chez Doris, Marina Boulos-Winton, said that Aboriginals coming from remote villages in the North may may feel disoriented and be the subject of discrimination by landlords in urban areas.

“Living in an urban environment, they’re not familiar with the grocery shopping system, the banking system,” said Boulos-Winton.

“The same skillsets that we have, they don’t have.”

Boulos-Winton furthered that there is an overall shortage of affordable housing in the city. Case workers help to “pound the pavement,” she said, and navigate the ins and outs of housing.

However, even the institutions that readily dispense help to the community seek help in return.

Chez Doris will hold a fundraising event on September 25 to help cover part of the cost of impending renovations to their facility, built in 1900.

Crumbling cement and water infiltration are only two of the pressing structural issues that will set the shelter back an estimated $475,000, and the repairs must be completed by April 2017 at the latest, Boulos-Winton said.

While Chez Doris does receive some government funds, they rely mainly on donations and fundraising events to cover their operational costs. While $150,000 has been pledged towards the most recent of the repairs, the shelter will have to raise the remainder of the sum on its own.