After two years of being online, the yearly Nuit des sans-abri de Montréal is back

The Nuit des sans-abri comes back after two years of pandemic to hold a vigil to support people experiencing homelessness and raise awareness about the difficulties of living on the street

After gathering for speeches at Phillips Square, community organizers and participants marched to Place Émilie-Gamelin for the 33rd annual Nuit des sans-abri. There, organizers met for a solidarity vigil where people experiencing homelessness could gather around fires and have food and drinks with those present. People played music and made art. Activists put up tents to raise awareness on the various issues affecting the homeless population. 

La Nuit des sans-abri was started in 1989 by several community organizations and spread to various cities across Quebec. Since then, it is held each fall to raise awareness about the difficulties encountered by people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and social disaffiliation. The number of people in this situation in Montreal and throughout Quebec has been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to community organizers.  

Marianne Daigle, a community organizer for the Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM) and co-organizer of the Nuit des sans-abri, explained that this year’s event was the first time since the start of the pandemic that it  was held in-person, which the organizers hope let people feel more connected. 

“After two years of the pandemic, it seemed essential to us to have this gathering, which is a mobilizing moment of awareness for civil society,” said Daigle. “The pandemic brought a sense of solidarity, of sharing and now that the pandemic has calmed down we have many more people in precarious situations or who were on the line and that the pandemic has pushed over the line.”

Daigle explained that there is a lack of adapted services for homeless people in Montreal.

“We need to diversify the actions and the type of resources,” said Daigle. “Long-term, temporary and emergency housing, we need all of these because homelessness has a thousand different faces.”

Daigle added that, on top of the labour shortage, community organizations also lack the necessary funding to meet the demand for their services. She explained that the current social and political climate are pushing more and more people out on the streets.

“Each homeless person has an individual journey but there are systemic issues,” explained Daigle. “The housing crisis has added a lot, even the increase of the cost of living that affects us all.” 

Jacques Brochu, an artist who has experienced homelessness, was present to showcase his work. Brochu discussed his experiences using art therapy, which he discovered through the harm reduction community organization, Dopamine, in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Currently in a difficult housing situation, Brochu hopes to soon live in a housing co-operative and eventually become an art therapist. 

Brochu and other people present were quick to denounce the “not in my backyard” effect, from residents opposed to having homeless shelters built in their neighborhoods, ultimately stigmatizing people experiencing homelessness.. Participants also mentioned a lack of political policy and exposure visibility towards the displaced. 

“The most difficult thing is the lack of commitment of the political class,” said Brochu, regarding the recent provincial election. “Politicians don’t want to actually make decisions,” said Brochu.

Student Life

Humans of Concordia: Mahmudul Haque Jishan

How one student uses excess food to help a community at no extra cost

In December 2018, Mahmudul Haque Jishan’s routine late-night departures from work at Arabica Lounge turned into something more. He had noticed the amount of excess food being wasted at the restaurant, and saw an opportunity to improve the living conditions for Montreal’s homeless community.

“I’ve been working at this place since October,” said Jishan. “I saw that there was a lot of food waste, but at the same time, when I’m coming home at night at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., there are still homeless people. I tried one day to give them food and then I went back the next day and asked the same person, ‘Was this food good enough for you?’ They said, ‘Yes.’”

“I tried one day to give them food and then I went back the next day and asked the same person, ‘Was this food good enough for you?’ They said, ‘Yes,’” said Jishan. Photo courtesy of Jishan.

Jishan is from Bangladesh where he says homelessness is a common sight. However, he did not expect it to be the same story in a developed country such as Canada. Additionally, the homeless community in Montreal have to deal with the unbearable and often fatal temperatures during Canada’s harsh winters.

When Jishan first began working at Arabica Lounge near the Sir George Williams campus, he often noticed food that had been wasted by customers. Food was ordered, yet uneaten; such as a small portion of fries, rice, pita, or salad. On his way home, Jishan began to stop by fast food restaurants around campus, namely McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Burger King along Ste. Catherine St. W. These restaurants also had excess food waste and were willing to give it to him to contribute to his initiative.

“There is a Tim Hortons beside Concordia University that is [open] 24/7 and there are at least five or six people outside of there,” said Jishan. “I have three days of work a week and after every night I go, there are still people there.”

Jishan soon noticed the same faces waiting outside the Tim Hortons and continued to give them leftover food. He started to categorize the food into plastic bags and would leave his shifts with enough to feed at least four people. It was not long until others around him began to take notice.

Mahmudul Haque Jishan is pursuing his master’s in engineering at Concordia. Photo courtesy of Jishan.

“The people I work with at the restaurant, my colleagues who are also students, have asked what I was doing and they said ‘Okay, we will do it too.’ I asked my manager ‘Can I do this?’ They said they won’t get involved but they’ll allow me to do it, no problem,” said Jishan.

Jishan hopes that, as he continues his initiative, other restaurants will take notice. Restaurants willing to give their leftovers to the homeless benefit their community at no extra cost. Jishan says that those he has already helped have never complained about receiving wasted food and have always accepted it graciously. He is adamant that if restaurant workers consciously try to conserve food waste during their shift, they could always leave with enough to feed a few mouths.

“I have just started my master’s in engineering,” said Jishan, “and many of the students here are working at different restaurants so we want to make a formal organization where each of us wants to contribute.”

After graduating, Jishan wants to use the connections he has made in school to start an organization that will tackle this issue efficiently. In the meantime, he hopes his story will inspire more people and restaurants to create change. Companies can contribute to a cause that will drastically improve the quality of life for those who are less fortunate without spending a dime. They simply have to start.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

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