Ms. B., 70 years old, came to Project Genesis’ Storefront individual services drop-in centre in the summer of 2007. Her Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to the Old Age Security pension had been cut off, leaving her with a total monthly income of only $384.
She couldn’t afford her own apartment and had been couchsurfing for a couple of years, living in the apartments of various friends. Ms. B. faced a huge ordeal in providing the documents to prove her Canadian residency, which she needed to do to have her GIS reinstated by the federal government.
Our Storefront’s rigorous, free-of-charge assistance – through encouragement to Ms. B., by many phone calls with Service Canada, and by the retrieving of numerous archived documents – combined with Ms. B.’s perseverance, resulted in a life-changing increase of her monthly income to almost $1,200, as well as a retroactive payment to her of over $5,000.
A Storefront volunteer advisor informed Ms. B. of publicly-subsidized apartments for seniors in a local not-for-profit social housing initiative, nearby on the corner of Côte-Ste-Catherine Road and Decarie Boulevard. Ms. B. applied and was accepted. She was thrilled to finally have a place to call home.
Today, about 10 years later, as we celebrate the 2017 Centennial Year of Federation CJA, Ms. B. volunteers her lively participation, insights and well-honed skills with Project Genesis’ Housing Rights Committee (with 57 volunteers) and Anti-Poverty Committee (with 78 volunteers). She is determined that no one else should have to experience the indignity and injustice of poverty. Ms. B., along with the other 198 Project Genesis members, guides the organization into the future, buoyed by commonly-held values and aspirations for social justice.
Project Genesis, since its start in the late 1970s, has combined individual services with community organizing for improved living conditions, often related to housing, and for improved standards of living, usually related to overcoming bureaucratic obstacles in basic income public social programs and to strengthening the social safety net within the multiethnic Côte-des-Neiges neighborhood of Montreal.
From its beginnings, Project Genesis has reflected a will to take the immediate difficulties experienced by people seriously, by providing easy-to-access, drop-in individual services. This past year, our Storefront individual services drop-in centre provided over 9,400 in-person and follow-up interventions, each quality-assured, with people of 140 countries of origin. As well, we offered thousands of phone interventions. These services were enabled by 61 trained and supervised volunteers, as well as 14 social work and law students and student stagiaires, offering information (often detailed legal or procedural information), referrals, and individual advocacy.
Given the high volume of Project Genesis’ individual services, our Storefront staff, volunteers and student interns often notice the practical, immediate effects and longer-term impacts of both good and bad public policy. When there’s a new obstacle or wrench put in the wheel to accessing the social safety net, we’ll usually see it quickly reflected in the situations for which people come in. This then informs Project Genesis’ community organizing program, by calls of “Let’s find out what’s happening and do something about it!”
Pursuing improvements to public programs and greater equity, and addressing the social causes of many of the individually-experienced difficulties we see in our Storefront, often leads us to link up with other agencies and organizations, at times across the neighbourhood, the city or the whole province. Project Genesis from its origin, as an organization involving and dedicated to serving people of all backgrounds, reflects the wider reality that it takes us all, working together in an inclusive way and with common goals, to make a dent in reducing poverty and ultimately to end poverty.
At almost 40 years of service by and for the wider local community, Project Genesis continues to generate new beginnings among service users, volunteers and the local community:
Emil first came to Côte-des-Neiges as a Herzliah High School student. As he walked by on Victoria Avenue, he noticed Project Genesis’ crowded waiting room. He asked himself “What’s going on there?”
Emil stopped in and, speaking English, French, Russian and Hebrew, began volunteering in Project Genesis’ Outreach door-knocking program. He interacts with local residents, encouraging people to know their rights and responsibilities as tenants. He witnesses change as people learn about their housing rights and Project Genesis: “It is 100% worth it knowing that you are making a difference in peoples’ lives!”
Together, we’re contributing to positive change within our society for us all. Federation CJA’s sustained support of Project Genesis’ mission and practical work during our almost 40 years is an appreciated beacon of community-wide solidarity.