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.