Saturday, November 2, 2013


While many among you will be on theme 
and follow in with tales of warm and lavish homes from your childhood and such, 
I took the opposite road!! 
What about the homeless?!? 
Let's go back in time, 
thanks to the Archives of the McCord Museum, 
for starters...

"Burning of the Hayes House, Dalhousie Square, Montreal, 1852"
(Painting by James Duncan).
The flames burned for two days, 
leaving 10 000 people on the streets. 
Becoming homeless may be due to tragedy or poor choices in life. 
In either case, 
the situation requires a helping solution.

"Old Men's Refectory, Grey Nunnery, Montreal, 1890"
(Photography by James George Parks). 
The two main communities in Montreal had a different approach toward charity work. 
Anglos tended to take matters in their own hands in a private endeavor 
while the French tended to rely on religious orders to take care of that, 
though one doesn't exclude the other, 
of course!! 
But there was/is certainly a different mentality.

"Soup Kitchen [possibly] in a Church Basement, Montreal, 1930"
The English elite often got involved to finance various projects 
and Women's organizations took care of the details 
to provide some comforts to the needy.

"Monks Giving Shoes and Clothes to Old Men, Montreal, 1930"
If it hadn't been for the presence of many religious orders involved in this, 
so many destitute would have been even far worse than they were. 
Those were dire times and the need far exceeded whatever was available... 

I recently took a few pictures of the better known refuges in the district, 
because some things remain a sad reality: 
There will always be poor people, 
and unfortunately, 
there will always be those who fall through the cracks of the system, 
remaining in a state of isolation and starvation [among other problems]. 
Decades ago, 
our government decided to empty the institutions that catered to people with psychiatric problems, 
leaving them to wander the streets. 
Plus drugs and alcohol further compound the problem, 
making these cases difficult to deal with 
and provide for them rehabilitation and a safer environment. 
Often they end up with a criminal record 
due to violence, stealing and other misdemeanors. 
Hardly anything to help the situation here. 
Some willingly commit an offense just so they can go to jail and be taken care of, 
something they are unable to do for themselves... 
How sad is that?!? 
It just proves our system is failing lamentably those most fragile among us. 
But one must applaud the efforts deployed by those who work in those refuges, 
employees and volunteers alike!!

First established as a soup kitchen in 1889, 
it quickly expended and now offers 488 beds 
for a capacity of over 145 000 nights and 260 000 meals yearly. 
A hot meal, a shower, fresh clothes, a safe night in bed, 
barely enough to give a man back his dignity, 
but they also have supervised apartments and psychiatric follow-up 
to possibly afford a chance for some to find a bit of normalcy in their life. 
This is a private shelter, 
the largest [private] one in Canada, 
now with five pavilions with each a different purpose/mission.

The result of the actions of laymen, Sulspician priests and Grey nuns 
with the St Vincent de Paul Society 
to create in 1877 a shelter for those in need back then.. 
Sister Rose de Lima Bonneau served from 1909 until her death in 1934, 
becoming a legend  for her kindness and generosity. 
This refuge has since developed workshops among other activities 
to stimulate the creativity of their clients and help find validation through their accomplishments. 
I remember hearing years ago their choir who did find some notoriety. 
They recently also held an auction to sell artworks done by their clients. 
For the homeless, 
going to Bonneau's means going to a place where they will find 
compassion, generosity, understanding and comforting, 
and a chance at re-evaluating their situation and perhaps make the necessary modifications 
to embark on a different journey 
rather than one of isolation and misery.

I don't recall the explosion as such even if I lived nearby back then, 
but I remember the sound of sirens rushing by and I quickly heard the news 
that there had been a gas leak at L'Accueuil (back in 1998). 
I went to see my colleagues at the E.R. to know 
if they needed me to come in earlier than my evening shift 
but against all odds and while most tragic for the dead and the injured, 
fatalities were not as high as one might have expected in such circumstances 
and those injured were not all brought to where I work 
but also to other hospitals in the area, 
so the situation was quite manageable for us. 

Much like a phoenix, 
it was reborn from its ashes 
and is now stronger than ever in the belief of its mission. 

"La Maison du Pere".
I learned today who was "le pere":
Guy Laforte, 
who meant to be a missionary in Argentina 
but was offered in 1969 to help instead those we have here. 
Thus it began in 1970 with only sixty beds, 
welcoming the homeless men and involving them in the process of the organization. 
This has remained true as men are offered the opportunity to help their brothers 
and feel like a valuable part of the process. 

These are only a few of the resources aimed at the homeless in Montreal. 
I know of a "few" more and I'd like to mention a couple more, 
if you don't mind. 

Now 25 years ago, 
I remember seeing the caravan at night 
where the cold and hungry gathered for some food 
and perhaps some clothes. 
Young kids living aimlessly on our streets 
and finding there the closest thing to a father figure, 
Father Emmett Johns, 
better known to all as "Pops", 
a most engaging and respected figure in the cause of the homeless, 
a voice for those who have none. 
Dans la Rue is an organization geared toward our youth that finds itself at risk. 
They also have a day center since 1997 to cover the kids' basic necessities, 
like food, hygiene, clothes, and a support staff for counseling and such. 
There are also art workshops available. 
I went with a friend a few years ago. 
A moving experience as I saw the talent of some, 
the humor of others, 
despite their circumstances. 
You may be interested in reading this post
(lots of pictures, few words, much food for thought though... Promised!!)

There is also another group I am somewhat familiar with, 
a magazine sold on the street by people 
who are facing these difficult problems of poverty and social isolation 
to help them reconnect with people and find value in their work. 
They also contribute to the content of the magazine. 
L'Itineraire also acts as a community center, 
offering an array of services and referrals to other services 
for what goes beyond their mandate or resources. 
I first knew about that magazine because I knew his director, 
(we used to be neighbors...), 
and on those occasions when we discussed his work, 
he spoke about it with passion and dedication. 
Poverty [and the injustices related to it] has always existed 
but there are just some people who are unwilling to give up 
and keep on fighting for the rights of the destitute, 
giving them a voice. 
He's that kind of guy, 
Monsieur Lareault. 
The guy you see in the picture above is my Itineraire guy, Joe!! 
I've known him for many years now. 
A kind soul. 
I know others but he's my favorite. 
We give each other updates on our respective lives 
and bid each other farewell 'till the next time. 
Poverty is not scary, 
it is sad. 
It is not airborne either, 
you won't catch it. 
Be kind the next time you come across a less fortunate one, 
and perhaps you could even listen to what he/she has to say 
instead of avoiding to look at him/her. 
They have a name, 
they have a life [or the right to one].

Home is where the heart is
and if your heart has a place to call home, 
find yourself fortunate!! 
Not everyone has that privilege, 
even in the civilized world... 
Time for you to go "home", meaning 
Thanks for dropping by!! 


  1. What a sad situation! A different way to take a look at this week's theme. You are right, homeless people have stories to tell. I worked at a Women's Emergency Shelter, sometimes they (the women) would become homeless in a heartbeat and end up on our doorstep, some with little children huddled around them, sad indeed. Just because we are warm in our homes, we shouldn't forget those who are not, especially in this country's cold climates in winter. Good Post.

    1. Hi Rosie!! Then you know what I'm talking about since you worked on the front line. I remember seeing terrible things
      when cops or ambulance would bring us some folks who suffered violence on the streets, or those who inflicted it
      upon themselves in a desperate move. It is a complex matter but one we should definitely not ignore as it creates a
      bad climate in the city.
      Thanks for coming by and face this big post!!
      Much appreciated!!
      I guess it was worth for me staying up this late last night.

  2. Good for you, TB, for posting this perspective on HOME(less). It's a humanitarian issue everywhere, it seems.

    1. Hi Deb!!
      Yes, it is a common scene in third world countries to see people begging,
      but I daresay the last 30 years have shown a dramatic progression here in Montreal.
      I've lived downtown all of my adult life and was coming here as a teen,
      and I've seen the evolution of things over time.
      You can hardly turn anywhere without running into some poor souls.
      Add to that the presence of drug dealers and prostitution and you get sometimes an explosive situation.
      I took this road this week as this angle spoke to me more than some reminiscing about some old house.
      Maybe that's just me...
      Thanks for coming by!!

  3. it is the same here in Toronto where there are so many homeless in the downtown area. It is wrong that in a society such as ours we do not take care of these people.

    1. G'morning Jackie!!
      The "funny" thing though,
      despite our best efforts,
      I'm sure many would fall through the cracks as I said in my post,
      because they have such odd behavioral problems
      and they would refuse to conform to any rules of any organizations,
      preferring to remain on the streets.
      We've got a few like that who spend the whole year outside,
      despite our winters here.
      The economy in our country is stretched to the max and I'm not quite sure it is properly invested/managed...
      but these organizations certainly deserve all of the support they can get.
      Speaking of Toronto, quite a mess you got there, if you get my drift.
      I sympathize!!
      Our mayoral situation here is not any brighter
      and we have to vote tomorrow for a new mayor,
      despite suspicion or proven signs of corruption.
      I'll be voting for an independent since I cannot endorse any party at this point.
      I'm rather disgusted with politics [at all levels] lately!!
      May we all soon see some brighter days ahead!!
      Thanks for coming by!!

  4. You've outdone yourself here. What a lot of information and such an interesting take on the theme. Not living in an urban area, we don't see the homeless situation day to day in fact I've never seen a homeless person in our town. I know there are illegal immigrants living rough in the arroyos or so they say, but we rarely - actually never see panhandling. Being homeless in San Diego is quite a different matter than being homeless in other harsher climates around the world.

    1. I imagine each location has its own reality on this matter.
      For me, I was born and raised in the big city,
      and while I did see some in my childhood on occasions,
      it became ever more present as the years flew by.
      Now, it is a constant sight...
      Are they more visible now?
      I know they come in larger numbers.
      Thanks for coming by!!

  5. What a perfect post, touching and inspiring, and such a point in so many directions that one should ponder, and perhaps, give a hand where ever we can. Not just helping in the soup kitchens on Thanksgiving Day either. There are a tremendous amount of places and lost souls that could use even as much as a smile. Bravo on your post it touched my heart.

    1. Thanks Karen!! I'm glad I could do at least that much.
      Helping in the soup kitchen is great, and not just on Thanksgiving, indeed...
      This is a challenging situation 365 days a year for those who have to live through it daily,
      and those who try to provide for them some relief.
      Indeed a smile can do some difference in someone's life,
      recognizing their existence.
      Thanks for reading!!

  6. Sometimes it seems like there are a lot of homeless people hanging around downtown here, but I know there must be a lot more who are less visible.

    1. Those are the ones we need to reach out to,
      before we lose them.
      Thanks for coming by!!

  7. Thanks for the reality-check Bruno.

  8. With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away in the USA (and recently observed in Canada), you have reminded me how much I have to be thankful for. At this time of year, the food drives and clothing drives pick up momentum, but those same needs don't go by the calendar.

    1. Yes Wendy, it is good to take the time to see how fortunate we are in comparison
      and to see what one can do to help out in any way one can.
      Every little bit helps, even if it doesn't solve the whole problem.
      Thanks for reading this!!

  9. An inspired essay, Bruno! Absolutely one of your best! Your own photographs are superb artwork with a striking rearrangement of color and angles. I shall make the first one my desktop image for the week. To come up with such a clever way to integrate stories, photos, and video is the result of lots of practice. :-)

    1. Ah, Mike, some topics I guess speak to me more than others.
      It felt natural for me to go this way rather than speaking about pretty things and such...
      Perhaps because I am confronted daily by the problem in the area.
      Thanks for reading this post.
      I am a tad surprised no one complained at the length of this post...
      I guess people got used to my style!!!

  10. A thought provoking post. Too many of use pass by on the other side only glad that that it is not us that are homeless. The is a 'Big Issue' magazine sold by those in need in the UK. At the very least we should buy it.
    Well done, Bruno.

    1. Thanks Bob!!
      I believe it would be easier for people to acknowledge the problem
      rather than trying to ignore it.
      But that's just my opinion!!!

  11. Goodness, how thou dost tweak our souls. Blessings. In the little southern Oregon town where I live, we have a significant homeless community. Most of the year the temperatures are fairly mild -- but this time of year the temperature starts to plummet, the rain and snow make living under a box, in a makeshift tent-or even a real tent, rather unbearable.Churches open their doors, put out the word for warm winter coats, socks, blankets and such. Churches and community groups work together to provide at least one free hot meal several times a week. Is it enough? Never, but it comes from the heart and soul of the community --- and for that we are blessed.

    1. Hi Joan!!
      I'm glad to hear that your community cares about its own.
      As an atheist, I am not one that needs the spiritual guidance from churches [of any kind],
      but one can't deny the benefit of their efforts in all of our respective communities.
      Where the state fails, these churches compensate by their constant generosity.
      People may have their flaws, but it is surprising just how many have a kind heart.
      I'm pleased to say that Quebeckers, as a rule, can be quite generous.
      I hope I haven't ruined your day now...

  12. Atlanta has a horrible homeless problem. People live under viaducts with the highway or train tracks running overhead. sometimes the city fences off the area to keep them from going up close to the top. Then they just live outside the fenced area. Sometimes they bed down in the doorways of vacant buildings and downtown churches. The US also closed the mental hospitals decades ago. I wonder what prompted that "solution" and why there wasn't any realization that some people need help.

    1. I believe this was a purely economic decision but when you consider all of the interventions we have to do on a daily basis,
      I am not quite sure this was so "economic" after all. Some need a hand while going through some rough times,
      but others need a permanent solution. And in any case, they need a way out from living on the streets.
      I guess politicians, despite all of their great speeches, don't hold compassion very high on their list.
      When they want to cut somewhere, social services always seem to be their favorite target,
      one assume because it is not something their "friends/supporters/$$$" wont need...
      That's why I wouldn't get involved in politics since it seems to alter the character of those involved
      or at least coerce them into actions I would find repulsive.
      And also, I don't speak their language. I say what's on my mind and I mean it.
      There's no twisting the truth or saying nothing but empty promises.
      Some perhaps get involved with the best intentions, one hopes!!,
      but the political machine will simply grind them down.
      I see Atlanta tries the same approach as what I've seen here, merely displacing the problem,
      not fixing it!!! It may not have been perfect in the past, because among other things, some folks ended up
      in institutions where they didn't belong, but some needed that and we seemed of a more charitable nature back then.
      Now, if it doesn't bring in money, nobody wants to get involved with it.
      Our society may have lost its soul...

      Thanks for reading!!

  13. When I first read this there was only one comment and its been sitting open in my browser for several days. The whole topic is just so difficult. This ostrich has had her head pulled out of the sand and would love to put it back down there ! I've no way of comparing the problem in our two cities but it does exist here and our various charities do their best. One of our church breakfast programs had to shut down for a while recently as vandals broke in and wrecked the place. Unbelievable. We have the Big Issue magazine which is always worth reading, and a Pay it Forward coffee program in some shops. Emergency accommodation is hard to come by. . Thanks for going for the house with no roof and no walls.

    1. I can't blame you for it. I'ts easier [trying] to ignore the problem, I guess.
      A self-preservation reflex, I would assume?!?
      But I've been living in the downtown district for over a quarter of a century now
      and have been exposed to so many things, also through the work I used to do
      except for the last decade. But the reality prevailing in the district permeated everything.
      I feel for these folks!
      Thanks for coming out of your comfort zone and commit yourself to saying something here.

  14. Where I used to live, our church had a program called, "In from the cold". The Church basement was open to any homeless in the area throughout the Fall and Winter months and food and beds were provided. We also had a Winter Coat collection to provide poverty-stricken in the area with a warm coat.
    I never hesitate to look people in the eye. At least I try to, and to smile.

    Thanks, Bruno.

    1. I'll grant you that some are rather intimidating in their looks.
      I did say some have behavioral problems (psychiatric condition, drugs, alcohol?!?).
      But I'm sure your smile may have brighten up someone's day.

    2. By the time I got to the end of your post, I had forgotten to mention how much I liked that photo of the Brewery Mission. :-)

    3. Well, thank you!!!
      I thought it'd be a nice touch to show what's there now,
      and that has been there for some time,
      and in some cases, a very long time!!

  15. As Bob says there’s ‘Big Issue ‘ magazine in UK and just lately there’s been a lot in the press about the increased need for ‘food banks’. It’s easy to forget that there will always be grinding poverty in just about every corner of the world. It’s not all roses round the door is it?

    1. Anyone who actually bothers to look around will see the need,
      no matter where on this planet.
      What happens next is up to each one...
      Thanks for coming by!!!

  16. Food for thought indeed, Bruno. Have you heard of The Rucksack Project? It's worldwide and a simple way for us to help those who are less fortunate, especially as winter is coming and so many people will be cold, wet and hungry. Google for it - there's probably one in Montreal. I'll be taking part in the Edinburgh meeting this year - it really touched a nerve with me. Edinburgh also has a cafe/takeaway which donates all its profit to charities and 25% of the staff are previously homeless people. You can buy your lunch sandwich and a voucher to put "in the jar" so that a homeless person can have a coffee/sandwich/hot meal. What a brilliant idea :-D I'm not religious but "there but for the grace of God"... Jo

    1. About the Cafe, when I mentioned L'Itineraire, they have something like that on the premises, same principle.
      A good idea goes around!!!
      We must do what we can, each in our own way.
      If this is your way, it is most commendable and I totally encourage you!!
      I'm not religious and one doesn't need to be to show kindness.
      It is the decent thing to do, and selfishly, I'll say, it is the best feeling in the world.
      Thanks for reading!!
      I'm glad I've written this as I get to read now the reactions of others on this topic.
      Should there be a Sepian in each community,
      this would be a better world.
      There!! I'll start my own cult and we'll invade the world with kindness!!!

  17. Wonderful post.

    I was living in Los Angeles when Reagan emptied the institutions, not thinking on where they might go or what might become of them. One of things I remember the most is that the people were given bus tickets and asked where they wanted to go. Too many said Hollywood. Soon the streets of Hollywood became even more complicated to walk through. Mentally ill people with violent tempers would follow you through the streets. I stopped going to my favorite book stores because it became too scary to visit. It took Hollywood a long time to turn things around. And today we have the state of Nevada basically doing the same thing. They give the mentally ill tickets to California and never give them another thought. I don't think our societies will ever really understand those who have not.

    1. On the contrary, I'm quite afraid someone will give it too much thought,
      and just hit the delete button for those deemed undesirable and not viable in our society...
      They don't have the guts right now due to public opinion
      but if the day should come they can spin it the right way,
      they'll get their way...
      And that'll be a very sad day,
      the day we lost our soul.

  18. Well Done and thank you for taking a different path with this weeks topic. A very confronting and difficult topic to address.

    1. Well... I didn't expect to win a popularity contest with this
      but I was hoping for a reaction and I am quite pleased!!
      I haven't had time to visit others [as usual lately...]
      but I figured most would go for the nice and pretty.
      But life is not always nice and pretty
      and I don't mind getting a little dirty,
      for the good cause!!!
      If it can give you pause and see what the needs are around you
      and how you could help, even if only once, it'd be one time they didn't have before.
      And I would consider this "mission accomplished".
      You do whatever is within your means.
      If it's money, so be it.
      If it's old clothes and blankets, that's fine too.
      Helping in a soup kitchen? Just bring your best smile!! The boys will appreciate that!!
      Anything!! Just do... something!!


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