On October 5, Projets Autochtones du Québec (PAQ) held its annual general assembly at the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal. The PAQ is a not-for-profit organization that focuses on combating the issue of homelessness amongst its First Nations, Métis and Inuit members in Montreal.

In the upcoming year PAQ will face numerous obstacles that it needs to overcome. Not only will it be redefining its mission statement but PAQ needs to find a new home since its current location on de la Gauchetière will be demolished in 2013.

PAQ was established in 2003 as a research organization but over the years it has developed into a homeless shelter for the Native community. Currently, it offers 52 beds and provides basic services such as food, clothing and cultural activities. But its main focus is on reintegrating the homeless back into society and giving them the tools to establish a more stable lifestyle.

Presiding over this year’s general assembly was William John, who was joined by President Joey Saganash as well as board members Arlene Cross and Adrianne Campbell along with Isabelle Richard, who is in charge of the relocation project.

The main order of business was a proposal to change PAQ’s mission statements, and to elect five new members to the board of directors.

The first item was brought up by Campbell, who proposed a change to the mission statement and objectives. “The constitution was made years ago when PAQ was a research project but now the mission and objectives need to be updated to reflect our goal to receive charitable organization status,” said Campbell. She proposed a clarified and expanded version of the bylaws to have a better chance.

This proposed change also reflects where PAQ is headed. Its new goals are to provide reintegration to Quebec society while promoting First Nations culture. One of its priorities is to establish urban social-adaptation programs which will focus on the mental, spiritual and physical health of the homeless. This program is currently being developed with the cooperation of McGill University but now it is only in the planning stage.

PAQ is run mainly by volunteers who contribute their time and effort to help people change their lives around. The board of directors took a pause from the agenda to thank all those who have volunteered over the years. “The lengths volunteers go through in order to get things done is amazing,” said Campbell. She described the community spirit that runs through the PAQ and its volunteers who go above and beyond for their troubled brothers and sisters.

Next up was the relocation issue, presented by Richard. When PAQ first started it only had 15 available beds, now it can have up to 40 emergency beds if needed. Since its lease of the current building is up in April 2012, the issue of finding new digs is becoming urgent. “With the contracts ending soon, it is a critical time for PAQ to find a new location,” Saganash said.

For the most part, the buildings which they have looked at so far have been rejected for various reasons. Some aren’t big enough, others can’t be rented long-term or the price is too high and one even has a zoning problem.

The purpose of the new building will be to provide more beds but also to incorporate the transition rooms. These rooms will be rented for periods of around three months with the goal of providing enough stability to help the homeless reintegrate into society. At first, the goal is to have around 10 transition rooms to test out how it will work. And yes, they will have kitchens and all the things necessary to provide stability.

Up until now, PAQ has enjoyed not paying for rent thanks to the city of Montreal. But with the uncertainty of the relocation, PAQ has had to consider the costs of rent which would add another $100,000 to its already tight budget. This is the reason why PAQ needs to get its charity status so that it can get donations from major corporations who would gladly give in return for a tax receipt.

Finally, it came to the part that everyone was waiting for – the elections for the board of directors. Since the board needed five new members and with only five candiates were nominated, a vote wasn’t necessary. The new members are William John, Devon Johnny, Alan Harington, Lewis Haynes and Bret Pinneault.

The work that PAQ and its volunteers put in is invaluable to the Native community in Montreal and in Quebec. Next year is going to be one of great change for PAQ and with the help of its volunteers 2012 could become the organization’s defining year.