It was scandalizing headline news across Canada that many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians alike are still trying to wrap their minds around, that the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (NFCM) had in fact lost its core funding and will most likely force its doors to close after 37 years.

According to Édith Cloutier, President of the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ), cutting off the Centre’s core funding was something that they had no choice but to do as the organization was refusing to follow the mandate necessary to receive that type of government funding.

Cloutier explains, the RCAAQ has terminated its relationship with the NFCM after trying to work it out with the Centre for years.

The RCAAQ’s role is to support all of the province’s Friendship Centres in their mandate which is to provide services to the Aboriginal communities as well as provide for youth programming through the Inter Tribal Youth Program (ITYP), both of which are funded through the national organization who get their funding from Heritage Canada.

The RCAAQ is responsible for the administration and follow-ups of programs under the mandates for the Friendship Centres and the ITYPs and making sure that the obligations, criteria and guidelines are met for those two specific programs.

Any of the other programs like the ones that the NFCM was providing to the homeless had nothing to do with the mandate from the RCAAQ.

“Being part of the Friendship Centre movement, we all have to share that same mission. And a Friendship Centre is basically a community, a socio-cultural community centre. That’s a challenge across the country, to develop a wide range of services through a Friendship Centre that can meet the needs of a community from prenatal to Elders, going with families with young children in terms of health, education, social services and culture. This is where we have been trying to work with the Friendship Centre for the past 10 years,” said Cloutier.

It wasn’t however that the NFCM was too vested in caring for Montreal’s homeless Aboriginals but that they were caring for them at the cost of programming for every other member of the community. And, without a mandate to provide services for everyone in the Aboriginal community, the RCAAQ had no choice but to cut the core funding.

It is not as though the RCAAQ doesn’t acknowledge the growing number of homeless Aboriginals in Montreal and there was hope that the NFCM would have been able to follow in Vancouver’s footsteps in pursuing a model that accommodates everyone.

Due to the extreme homelessness problem in Vancouver’s Lower East Side and the large Aboriginal population out West, the Vancouver Native Friendship Centre Society provides social, cultural and community-oriented support to families at their main location and then has a satellite centre in the Lower East Side for frontline work.

This way the needs of families and the homeless could both be met as, according to Cloutier, the main goal of a Friendship Centre is to provide a gathering place in the city, where Aboriginals can express their identity through community services, through social services and cultural services.

Despite their best efforts, the RCAAQ wasn’t able to get the NFCM back on track. According to Cloutier, the Regroupement actually started working with the NFCM in 2007 after creating a recovery plan involving  a series of follow-ups through an interim management committee that incorporated the Friendship Centre’s president and the RCAAQ.

This process failed as they were unable to get the NFCM back on its core mission while addressing the needs of the homeless.

After 23 years working at the Friendship Centre in Val-d’Or and 15 at the RCAAQ as President, Cloutier said she understood what the NFCM was going through.

“I’d call it organizational community crisis or maybe identity crisis. And, unfortunately, over the years, the shift slowly moved towards homelessness, most likely because there are very important needs. This is not what we’re saying, we’re not saying that we don’t know about the needs. But I think that if you are a Friendship Centre, there has to also have the needs of other community members that should be met the way a Friendship Centre should be working on,” said Cloutier.

Cloutier wanted to make it clear that while the funding for the NFCM has been stopped, this does not mean that funding to Aboriginal Montrealers has been cut off.

RCAAQ will get in touch with the stakeholders of the Montreal Aboriginal community to see how services can be offered to the entire Aboriginal community. Not just for the homeless but for students, professionals and families. This may happen with a new Friendship Centre in Montreal at a different location..

Cutting the NFCM’s core funding will however be far reaching.

For Montreal’s Aboriginal homeless, news that the Centre might be closing could not have come at a worse time according to Adrienne Campbell at Projets Autochtones du Québec (PAQ), Montreal’s only Native-oriented homeless shelter.

PAQ provides beds for over 40 homeless Aboriginals  in Chinatown, it is not within their budget to offer services during the day. Instead, Montreal’s homeless Aboriginals have been spending their days at the NFCM. This will end if the NFCM has to close its doors.

“I have already met with the police who patrol in the area of both PAQ and the Friendship Centre and already there are huge concerns about what happens during the day, people getting arrested.

“People who need programs need prevention. What was highlighted at our meeting with the police was prevention of homelessness. With the NFCM closing, all those people are going to end up on the streets during the day. They are used to going to the Friendship Centre and not other organizations where they don’t feel a sense of cultural security and cultural belonging,” said Campbell.

Adding to an already dire situation, PAQ may also have to close its doors. The Centre de santé et service sociaux that owns the building that PAQ is currently using has decided to reclaim the space and so PAQ have been asked to move by June 30.

This would mean that PAQ, a non-profit group, would have to pay rent for a new location, something that is not within their current means. In the past, the city of Montreal has covered the shelter’s rent but this agreement ends once PAQ moves from this location as it was unique to the building as it was under a specific program.

Finding a space to run an organization like a homeless shelter in Montreal is not easily done, downtown is under constant renovation and revitalization for tourism.

And so the situation for Montreal’s Aboriginal homeless may just become more difficult come summer when organizations that have been supporting vulnerable individuals could just stop dead in their tracks.