On November 3rd, Le Pont Centre celebrated three years in its mission of providing services to asylum seekers. The centre is more than just a shelter; it is a place where each individual is welcomed in dignity and respect, as a member of one big family: the family of Christ.
As they celebrate the past three years, Arthur Durieux and Alessandra Santopadre and their whole team feel that they now have ‘increased confidence, in themselves and in the organization.’
‘We have been doing so much more advocacy work and raising awareness and sensitivity, because there is going to have to be a big change in Quebec in terms of taking in refugees and asylum seekers. It is a change that concerns us greatly,’ says Arthur Durieux, manager of Le Pont.
‘Things aren’t too bad’
Despite being constantly on the hunt for information and access to resources and public-, private- and community-based services, every couple of months they find their efforts thwarted by partnerships that have been terminated or are no longer accessible, and they have to ‘start everything over again.’ ‘There are a lot of preconceived notions [about immigrants] that stand in their way to getting access to opportunities for employment, francization and higher learning. Fortunately, health care has not been affected yet, but many services that could facilitate the successful integration of asylum seekers and be useful to them, helping them to adapt better and take part in society, are not easily accessible. They are criticized for not fitting in, but at the same time they are not being given the tools,’ he explains. ‘It’s not a sad celebration,’ says Arthur, ‘but that is the reality behind our third anniversary.’
On November 3rd, the shelter celebrated three years of service. Residents of the house attended the gathering. It was small this year, on account of the pandemic, but in wholehearted accord with all who had previously passed through the facility or contributed to it in their way. Those wishing to participate could do so via the centre’s Facebook page.
‘We didn’t have a website for Le Pont or for all the projects we were offering to welcome and support immigrants and refugees. Now it’s a done deal,’ Arthur announces. This site includes a page for Le Pont with their activities and services, as well as a section for social workers posting important information for immigrants and refugees (private sponsorship program for refugees, Apostleship of the Sea, temporary workers’ union and cultural communities/parishes of Montreal). This valuable resource will prove very helpful and relevant!
The centre’s partners - the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Vatican, the centre’s local federal MP and the Archbishop of Montreal - all appeared on their Facebook page to offer testimonials and to recognize their efforts. Clothing articles that are needed at the moment are winter boots and winter coats. ‘We had the good luck to be in partnership with a program called Projet Parrainage, so we were able to provide some 30 children with brand-new winter coats and pants and school knapsacks to help these families out.’ Because of current circumstances, Le Pont is also appealing for monetary donations. Gifts can be made via: https://bit.ly/donsLePont.
In the current pandemic situation
‘We received a good deal of funding during the covid-19 crisis,’ Arthur explains. This allowed them to hire a project assistant for three months. ‘She was able to call each one of the families, sometimes going to visit them outside on the street or contacting them by telephone… She went all over Montreal making sure that everyone had what they needed for their work and any protective equipment, because not everybody had masks. Many people no longer had access to the food banks that had closed. We tried to alleviate the impact of these situations and to respond to their needs. And so we stay in touch,’ he adds. They are still able to take in asylum seekers in compliance with the legal standards, coordinating everything so that Le Pont can carry on with its mission, with or without covid-19.
May the celebration, and the mission, go on!
A project supported by the Archdiocese of Montreal, Le Pont Centre is a residence offering short-term (one- to two-month) accommodation to families and women seeking asylum, which is a much more precarious status to be in than that of refugee, which these families are waiting for. To facilitate their settling in Montreal or elsewhere, Alessandra and Arthur accompany them in their search for apartments (leases, furniture, etc.) and put them in communication with community organizations and government services offering assistance in the integration process.
But Le Pont is more than just this: ‘While we were planning this project, the first thing that we definitely insisted on was the feeling of family and warmth,’ says Arthur, ‘even if it is only the house, this old presbytery. We didn’t make the place fancy. We put up some decorations, and there were lots of toys for the kids, a television, two huge kitchens, and so on. It really is a home; people have to feel at home here.’
This family feeling comes through above all in the way they welcome people. ‘We learn everyone’s first name, we provide services on a daily basis, we go visit them, we have a WhatsApp group to message each other, and we have weekly meetings to discuss any new information, how to organize living arrangements in the home […] We want to create a warm and welcoming family atmosphere.’ Many stay in contact with the centre, which continues to help out as much as it can. As Pope Francis has said, ‘It is not just about migrants.’… They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are grateful to them!
To visit their new web site, please click here.