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?