Montreal’s Homeless / The People We No Longer See


  

What is happening in Montreal with the homeless is just horrible and I have seen it for myself.  Right next to multi million dollar construction sites is a homeless community.  People are sleeping out in the elements, in the most degrading, dirty and  unsanitary conditions, while  we argue about whether or not we need to build housing for the poor and whether they are a provincial or a federal problem.

If you walk up from the waterfront of Old Montreal you will come to a building where underneath live the  group of young and old,  homeless people. The building covers one square city block, with Viger  Street to the north, St. Antoine Street to the south, Berri Street to the east and St Denis Street to the west.  They arrive and leave by bike, or on foot.  I saw a bed for a lucky person and at least one sofa,, but most of these people were sleeping on the ground in blankets, sleeping bags and such. I noticed community garbage can, but no bathrooms and no place to urinate except on the walls where they live.

Even this unsanitary practice only works if you are a man and only works if this is all that you need to do.  The city knows they are there and you would think given that the building and the surrounding area offers no toilets to be used, that the city would at least provide a portable toilette, or two, if for nothing else for the sanitary reasons, health issues and the smell? Instead what I saw was men urinating on the walls trying not to expose themselves, but with the only alternative soiling themselves they became less than animals and soiled the very place that they lived and I wondered, what are the women of this community doing when they need to go and I shuttered and held my head in shame? Ashamed, because I was one of the blind, deaf and dumb and until this day, they had been blind to me too.

Closer to the waterfront of Old Montreal, and all around it I found another group of  homeless people trying to eek out enough space to grab a bit of sleep, on a bench, the grass, or when it rains under the eave of a building roof, or in the hollow of a building wall. Tourists walked by and seem not to take notice of them and the security guards for the area seem to leave them in peace and so they to are invisible too and so get no help as well.  Fortunately for them there are public toilettes near by for them to utilise.

Intake and outtake vents are their air conditioners in the summer and their heaters in the winter.  These people wash their face and hands in water fountains and the running water coming out of the statues in the area.  They will seek out food, clothing like animals do in the wild, following well established roots and guarding the best places with generous hearts for themselves and their friends.

I did find some of my group from the Berri Street, homeless community, sitting on Ste. Catherine Street in front of stores, restaurants and outside of metro stations, with cups in hand begging, silently. These were some of the elderly too tired and too weak to walk all day anymore, or the young with no life left in their eyes and no hope left in their souls, simply holding out their cups or hats and hoping for a few cents from a passer-by.  These are the most fragile of people of this community. There can be as many as 10 spread across a city block and they are on every city block and in every metro and mostly they are ignored, but only a few of the old and very young are from my group of homeless people.  There are just too many of them and one gets the feeling that if you give to one, you must give to them all and soon you will be where they are if you do that, so most people just go by and give nothing at all.

The healthier and the not  quite beat down spend most of their day  walking, carrying all that they own on their backs, or in baskets, or in bags. These forgotten, invisible people, cast aways of society, walk the never-ending journey, destination nowhere in particular, just trying to walk off another day.  Time is the enemy of these people’s day, because there is no hope for them and nobody cares about them save the missions and the workers of the hostels and homeless shelters.

These people and these places are the only people and places that these homeless people can count on for a moment of peace and a moment of rest from the endless walking.  With these people and in these places, they are for a little while human beings again and they hear of the better life to come in the next life. You may think it a small consolation these fragile people, considering the severity of   conditions that they are living through, in the here and now, but to them it is something to look forward to.  Feeling that even the most severe sentence will come to an end , will give a person enough of a reason  to put one foot in front of the other and take another step. They leave these places, knowing that they are not alone and that if no one else does, God does love them.

 As I stated earlier, nobody wants them around, nobody wants to see them, so they are kept walking, by the police, because if they stop walking they become visible again and then something will have to be done about them and no one wants that, not the tax payer and especially not the governments of Canada.  The governments are too busy worrying about balancing the budget, beautifying the city and making a better life for the suffering people in other lands around the globe, to do anything for these people and so everyday as the sun goes down the people of my homeless community return once again to take up their spots and try to get some sleep and for a few hours get a chance to stop walking.

How long have the homeless  been here I do not know, but I would not have found them if I had not been redirected down there by the police after the shooting death of the homeless man and the innocent bystander up the street not far from there, while I was getting pictures of the highway and intersection beggars, not to be confused with these people the situation is totally different between the two groups.

In direct contrast to the poverty and squalor that these people live in, all around them are the signs of prosperity.  Construction is booming and government buildings are everywhere, meaning that people with power to change what is happening here pass these people on the way to work every day and no longer see them. Out of sight  means out of mind and out of mind means no help for you.

There are signs pointing to  the Botanical Gardens, to Old Montreal; the Mayors Office and City Hall are just around the corner, but they have other things to worry about these days with the killing of the two men a homeless man and an innocent bystander by the police just up the street from the homeless community and the pepper spraying  to death of another man, in the same week.

This is the only time you will see mass media coverage about these people and their plight, because it is the only time they are considered worth the effort to main stream media.  Little stories may pop up from time to time prompted by some politicians holding a press conference in an election year, but other than that the media could careless. You are more likely to see a story about the mistreatment of animals, or animals loss of wildlife habitat than you will the mistreatment of these human beings, because everyone loves a good animal story and everyone loves animals.

It is a common practice for police to harass these homeless people moving them out in the morning so as not to offend the working public, or have tourists seeing how they live embarrassing city officials and allowing them to return after working hours and this is why they walk, because they are not allowed to stop and congregate where there are people who might be offended by the way they look dress and smell, or be embarrassed by the way we have allowed them to live, while we throw away in the garbage what could help these people for a year in a month.

The solution is an easy one, but it takes the will of all of us people.  The average person must stop walking by and pretending not to see the homeless, or dismissing them as not important.  Go there to that area and witness it for yourselves those of you that have no idea what I am talking about and then let us join together and make a noise so loud that the governments of all levels will have to get together and do something.  There are many reasons why these people find themselves in this position, but they are people no matter what and the next one sleeping under there could be you, or your child, or perhaps some you know and loved.  The truth is in fact, that they could be living under there right now, but you will have to go and look to find out.

Every town and city in Canada has one, or more of these places where people suffer and live in squalor. Your pets at home get better food, shelter and more love than these people will ever get again.  These are the forgotten people, the people for whom there seems to be no hope.  They are the people who when we see them after the winter is over  we say to ourselves,” Wow he, or she made it” and then we move on and they become invisible to us once again.  These people for the most part, who will die and no one will care and another will take their place.  We have money for jet fighters and wars, so why can we not find the money and the will to help these poor people?

About archemdis

I try to say what is on my mind and not hurt others, but some things need to be said whether they hurt or not and I do just that. I try to listen as well as talk, but my opinion is just that mine. You need not take it as your own, just respect the fact that I am entitled to it, as you are yours. I do read all comments, but will only answer, or allow to be displayed those which adress me by name, refer to the post by name in the comment, or that have been sent through the proper channels. In this manner I can tell whether the comment was meant for me and that it is not just spam.
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18 Responses to Montreal’s Homeless / The People We No Longer See

  1. Ivan Markovic says:

    Dear Archemdis,

    Thank you for your insightful blog page. I live right across from Viger Square where the homeless live – even during the most bitterly cold conditions – and it saddens me deeply to see them everyday without proper housing, food and emotional support. I try to help in little ways, offering food or just a little human warmth in the form of conversation. According to a statistic I read recently there are 300 thousand homeless in Canada. It’s a staggering statistic, indeed. I sincerely hope that the government will come up with a better infrastructure for these people who live in a constant state of squalor and misery. Until then let’s all do what we can to help, even if it just means offering moral support. And hopefully, we might make homelessness a thing of the past with our collective efforts.

    Best wishes,

    Ivan

    • archemdis says:

      Dear Ivan I do not think that there will be any help for these people any time soon from any level of government. The government on all levels does not care and most people chose not to see them. Thanks for your kind words and continue to do what you can to ease their suffering. It is up to people like you and I to not only give from our pockets and pantries, but to protests and raise awareness of the problem in any way we can. Have a great night and thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. There are many homeless people in Montreal and they need help!
    We are students helping to promote Benedict Labre House’s Homeless day center for men! If you would like see our blog, here is the link: http://hopeanddignity.wordpress.com/

    • archemdis says:

      Thank you for the link and I will certainly be checking your site out. The homeless have so few true champions on the grass roots, down on the street level and so any help and any friends they make are so important. I am recovering from an operation I had on Friday, but you will hear from me again. Every little bit that is done on the behalf of these people is a great thing; keep up the good hard work.

  3. Lindsay Cory says:

    Archemdis – I just came across your blog recently and I wanted to know if we could chat over email. I am writing my thesis in art history at Concordia about Square Viger and its homeless population who I have gotten to know quite well over the last year. I am writing about the site differently than I have seen done in the media and I was wondering if I could interview you about your time in the site but also just ask you some questions in general. Get back to me when you can I would really love to chat

    • archemdis says:

      Would be delighted to talk to you if you will e-mail me about when, where, or how you would like to proceed. Have a great night. Tried to e-mail you, but it did not work.

  4. randy says:

    i was hit by car in 2009 and not getting verymuch edemnity from the saaq i fell behinde in my rent and the rest of my bills i was afraid of being homless in montreal i was so depressed i took my last bit of money phurchased plane ticket to calgary ab hoping that i could find a job and find a place to live .

    • archemdis says:

      I know what you mean. I have been there but not for long and never in the winter. The thought of living on the street is definitely a scary one no matter what province or city one finds themselves in. Have a great night ane I hope all worked out for you in the end

  5. Zeus says:

    I have spent time homeless in Parc Viger in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2008 and the City has always either allowed people to have beds and furniture there or tried to kick every one out. It all depends on the mood of the media at the time. In the years I stayed there we didn’t let people shoot drugs in the park. I never received any help what so ever from Ville de Marie all they ever gave me were thousands of dollars in fines for being an undesirable person in their dirty dilapidated city. The police would always try to push us to Mount- Royal or the East end and the Mount- Royal police would tell us to go to the West or back down town with the rest of the trash. I got off the street and have a full time job and have a family now, I dont drink and I dont use drugs, I quit smoking and I did all this with out any help from any Government agency, thats because I realized there was no help and if you want help you can either help your self or stay where you are. Toronto is just as bad, you can be sitting in a park in Toronto with a bunch of people and one person has an open bottle of beer and the next thing you know all 10 people are getting open liqueur tickets for $110, consuming liqueur in a public park $110, loitering in a public space $75 and what ever else they feel like writing you up for and that can happen 5 times a week. When and if you ever get your life together, you’re fucked because you still owe all that money and they want their money from you because thats how they get their taxes from all the money you make begging in the streets. Now I see this new Toronto mayor wants to make pan handling and even just being homeless a crime, they want to force people into shelters with the threat of going to jail if they don’t comply. They plan on solving the homeless problem thats for sure. It’ll come to Montreal too if they get their way in T.O. One day we’ll have a DTES in EVERY city in the country and they’ll have big WALLS surrounding it. All the poor and down trodden will be forced to live in these ghettos. Escape from New York might have been a fiction in the 80’s but it will be for real in the future.

    • archemdis says:

      I see the situation as being the responsibility of both sides of the coin. While I sympathize with the street people however they landed on the street I think that they need to keep trying and get off of the street and back into life. I do not think the government tries enough to help that is for sure, but for those who are there because of drugs and alcohol addiction I think it is their responsibility to get help and there is help out there. Is it all groups of people that are being fined and harassed or certain ones? We are not allowed to drink in public parks in Montreal and I for one do not like the idea of drinking adults in public parks with children all about. I am with you if people are being bothered for nothing in public areas for just sitting on a bench enjoying the day, but if what you are talking about is being rowdy guzzling beer and being a general nusenses then I agree with the law that tickets you. Finally pan handling may be a way for some people to make ends meet, but running the gauntlet to get into a metro or every other doorway on a busy street is not something that a lot of people look forward to twice a day and 3 if they go out to lunch. I hear you but there are pros and cons to all arguments. I am glad for you and your success in getting off of the streets on your own and I wish you every possible continued success. Enjoy you new life and try to help another person to get where you have gotten. God bless you and your family. Good night.

  6. Steve says:

    Most of these homeless are addicted to either drugs or booze. Many of them are quite aggressive, Mario Hamel incident come to mind, he was shot because he had a rambo style knife on him and tried to charge the cops twice. A friend of mine was attacked by a homeless person not too long ago. If you think most of the homeless are nice people, you need to take off your pink glasses.

    Old Port smell like urine because of the homeless. You cant even walk the kids safely because of the discarded syringes zll over the Old Port.

    • archemdis says:

      Steve why so aggressive? Have you ever spent anytime at all with anyone less fortunate than yourself, or are you listening to someone else. Is this the thought that allows you to sleep at night, or pass these people in the street and feel ok about it? I used to be just like you until I talked to them and had some friends lose all that they had, and through no fault of their own. Pensions gone over night, but who cares about them, right Steve? Everyone has a story. What of the ones who’s pensions are not there because the government spent it, or the company they worked for invested it poorly and they find themselves with nothing after working hard all of their lives, ontributing by paying taxes and pension dues? Let me ask you this Steve, this was not this guys first run in with the police why was he not getting the mental help that he needed? Maybe he would not have been attacking garbage bags with his Rambo style knife as you call it, if he had gotten that help? What was the guy on his way to work guilty of since you brought it up, or do you think that he was part of the garbage bag conspiracy?

      Do we only help the nice people Steve; is that what you suggesting sir? Maybe if these people got some help, or were hospitalized, your fried would not have been assaulted, did you ever think of that? Why do you hate and make assumptions about all of the homeless because of the actions of one aggressive person, who might not have been homeless at all? Do not blame yourself, me, or all of the homeless, for the failures of the government and big business.

      As for the smell of urine in the area a portable toilette or two could help with the problem, or are you suggesting that they just not go? How far can you make it say first thing in the morning before you would be forced to soil yourself, Steve? You sound angry at these people, because they are walking talking examples of our society’s failures and greed and me for telling you the truth and showing it to you in undeniable proof. No matter what circumstances find those people on the street, the police killing one a year, us pretending they are not there, or the government not helping them, will not make them go away and in the case of your friends make them more safe. There numbers will continue to grow Steve, this I can assure you.

      I have heard a lot of negativity from you Steve, but do you have any idea how to change any of this short of extermination, or mass jailing? Helping them helps you and me Steve, what do you not get about that? In closing you made reference to me wearing pink glasses, so I will make you a deal; I will take off what you call my pink glasses Steve, if you will take your head out of the sand.

  7. Thank you for a very insightful article; a picture is certainly worth a thousand words.
    We have to bring visiability to our homeless population, because every person has a story that should be heard.

    • archemdis says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Sheila you are so right and the numbers are getting so large. It breaks my heart. To think there is money to keep the Bixi Bike business a float but not enough for even a portable toilette for these unfortunate people.

  8. Ralu says:

    thanks for the great article.

  9. D.I.D. says:

    I’ve been noticing that sad sights like these are becoming more common in the large urban areas across this country these days. Homelessness seems to be increasing, and yet the only home construction I am seeing is large McMansions that only the well off can reasonably afford.

    As far as social balance, this country is looking more and more like Mexico City everyday…

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