Julia Gray is on a very ambitious mission.
The 20-year-old McGill University student has recently devoted herself towards one goal: eradicating homelessness and poverty in Montreal.
“There is a huge need for more resources for people that are living on the streets,” she said. “In a city of over 30,000 homeless people, there actually isn’t one place to eat lunch on the weekends.”
Gray is a long-time volunteer with local community organizations in Montreal, including the Old Brewery Mission and the Benedict Labre House. She recently started a student club at McGill called Getting Off the Streets, part of a broader effort on her part called the JGray Initiative.
Through GOTS, Gray has started a sports program for the homeless.
“Sport helps them learn life skills such as motivation, commitment, involvement, and trust,” she explained.
Gray’s commitment to issues such as homelessness comes from a compelling personal story. Her own uncle lived for years on the streets of Toronto, but his resilience inspired her to take action.
“His addiction to alcohol took over,” she said. “He ended up homeless for seven years. But it was because of places like soup kitchens and homeless shelters that he was able to make that long road to recovery.”
Gray also decided that the only way to gain national support and recognition of her efforts was through a partnership with a political figure, so she began contacting MPs across Canada.
Marc Garneau, Liberal MP for Westmount—Ville-Marie, jumped on the opportunity to join forces with Gray.
In June, he proposed Bill C-418, a private member’s bill aimed at establishing a national children’s commissioner, an independent body tasked with overseeing how the government treats issues related to child poverty.
Since meeting Garneau, Gray has been the most vocal supporter of C-418.
A national strategy, according to Gray, would ensure that federal resources are sufficient and fairly distributed.
“The money is never enough,” said Michelle Llambias Meunier, communications officer at the Old Brewery Mission. “Society often has the preconception that homeless people are lazy, so there’s obviously some awareness missing. I’m pretty sure, for the next years, the homelessness situation is going to stay the same.”
Dorothy Massimo, the director of development and communications at Dans la rue, stresses the need for co-operation. “Dealing with homelessness is a multi-faceted issue, which cannot be resolved by any one level of government,” she said. “We can only hope to bring together all levels of government, specifically in the health and education sectors.”
In addition to the support from Garneau and other MPs, Gray’s initiative is being backed by United Way, Raleigh Rescue Mission, and various other shelters and organizations.
“I want to be able to deliver that message of hope and courage to other people,” she said. Her efforts have resonated with many of her fellow students, but she continues to stress the need for additional help and donations.