Projet PAL was founded in 1975 by a group of ex-psychiatric patients and a social worker from the Douglas Hospital. This was during the period of enormous deinstitutionalization within the health care system in Québec. For decades the mentally ill had been hospitalized in overcrowded medical wards receiving what are now considered today as cruel and invasive medical treatment. The rights of these individuals were often not respected and there was little recourse for them to take. When the government decided to close down these wards, the patients found themselves lost and clearly unprepared for life in the community. The prevailing practices at this time included electric shock treatments, control through constraints, isolation and the administering of high doses of anti-psychotic medication. These harmful practices had disastrous effects on the patients’ general health and well being, and of course, on their autonomy.
In the community they were no longer mentally ill patients but individuals living with mental health challenges. Realizing their loss of autonomy and lack of basic life skills, a group of ex-patients, along with the support of a social worker, formed a community group using an alternative approach in mental health. At the very core of this alternative philosophy was the recognition that it is the individuals themselves who must be central to all decisions concerning their well-being. They decided to do this by requiring people to become members of the organization rather than be users of it. Projet PAL would be theirs. Members would be responsible for the functioning and practices of the daily life and management of this new entity which they named Projet PAL (Projet Programme Aide au Logement). First and foremost on their list was to address the desperate need for housing in the community. Landlords were contacted and mental health awareness and education was provided to a reluctant community. This was the beginning of Projet PAL as a leader in the mental health community, and the leaders were its participant members who were front row and central.
Forty years have gone by and although many things have changed and expanded within our organization, there is a core value that remains constant. The Projet PAL Board of Directors is composed of a majority of participating members: individuals living with a mental health challenge. They have the final say on all matters that affect its membership. They are the experts. Their experience is valued. The Members Assembly is run by participant members and they discuss and vote on all matters pertaining to the drop-in policies and programming. Their voice and vote is what counts. All committees have a majority of participant members at the helm while the staff are there to guide and support. New residents are accepted into the housing programs by the current residents. Their point of view is not only considered, it’s essential.
From its very early days until the present, Projet PAL promotes member inclusion and participation in every aspect of the organization. Our alternative philosophy and approach encourages our members to make decisions on all matters that affect their lives, and to improve basic life skills thus improving self-esteem and the ability to take charge. We have seen its success from our very beginnings!