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Pivotal Caseworker,
Prevention and referral

Let's start from the beginning. At the beginning of the typical journey of a participant of Maison du Père, there is, not always, but often, the CAHR, the Centre d'accueil et d'hébergement en référencement. The CAHR is the old shelter transformed two years ago to put even more emphasis on monitoring and referencing. It is therefore a pivotal service in our organization, and to better understand the central place it occupies, we spoke with Guerson, a caseworker at the CAHR.


"Being a caseworker, basically, is a vocation, says Guerson, about his career path. I’ve always wanted to become a psychologist, and I have a bachelor's degree in psychology from Université de Montréal. I should also add that I grew up in this kind of environment [of helping people] because one of my sisters is a social worker, and I have another sister who is a specialized educator. My mother was a teacher and now for more than 15 years, she has had a foster family that she runs, and I myself grew up in that foster family. This is what fueled this enthusiasm, this vocation that I already had when I was young.” And that is what brought him to our doorsteps.


At Maison du Père, Guerson works at the CAHR. He explains to us what this service is about. Previously, the shelter offered 200 emergency beds at $1 a day. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, to follow the health instructions put in place by the government, it was necessary to reduce the number to 95. However, the places withdrawn have been replaced by new sites. external accommodation, such as those at the Hôtel-Dieu, the Auberge Versailles and the Hôtel Chrome. But also, the reduction in the number of eligible users has allowed closer monitoring of the men accommodated and an intensified referencing strategy.


From now on, the $1 fee is abolished. About 35 beds are reserved for temporary emergencies and about 60 beds are dedicated to a new 4-month program. Men wishing to join the program must meet with a caseworker to establish their objectives. “During the 4 months, he says, the person will have a caseworker assigned to him, who will be able to help him in his efforts, whether in terms of health [physical or mental], finding a job, finding accommodation... we work with almost all spheres of a person's life.” The participant will also take part in voluntary work at Maison du Père for a month, which will contribute to his social reintegration.


From the CAHR, it is possible to go to other services of the organization, such as the RÉSO (social reintegration) or the seniors’ residence. But sometimes, it is also important to recognize when an external resource is better able to meet the particular needs of the user: this is what is called “referencing” here. For example, if the person has mental health issues, they will be referred to the Diogène organization. For veterans, we will direct them to Sentinelle. For people leaving prison, we will go to the John Howard Society. Finally, for intoxicated people, rather than sending them back them to the streets, we will turn to the Exode organization.


These are the main tasks assumed by the caseworkers: to ensure the monitoring of the participant, and his referencing. To do it, and to do it well, one must apply certain values and attitudes, says Guerson. First, “you’ve got to have active listening”, that is to say focus your attention on the person, which allows you to properly assess their needs, but also follow up on what is said. “Also, it takes empathy. As a worker, you have to be able to put yourself in the other person's shoes to [understand their] emotions, to [grasp] what the person is going through.”


In addition, you have to be jovial and humble. In this way, “the person doesn't just see me as a caseworker, he sees me as someone like him. Finally, it is necessary to “encourage the efforts and the autonomy of the person”. Thus, the participant has a pivotal part of the process, and the objectives on which we work are those of the participant himself, which respects the individual while ensuring better chances of success. And there are many examples of success because, says Guerson, “there are many participants who were at the CAHR, in our program, and now, who are in housing, who work, and who thank us for what we have done for them. This is what gives value to what we do.”


By talking with Guerson, we see that this career is indeed a true vocation for him. But even for him, this contact with these people changed his perspective on the issue of homelessness. “Before, I wasn't really in direct contact with people who are homeless. Yes, I met them in the metro, in the street, but working with them, seeing them every day, that gives me another perspective of these people, completely. It allows me to see that anyone could be homeless, be homeless, could be unemployed.”

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