Homeless Deaths In the Past Month Highlight a Flawed System that Needs Reform, According to Some Experts

Organizations supporting the homeless in Montreal say they lack funding and resources

Hugo, a homeless person for over seven years, roams the streets of Montreal. As the frost-covered snow treads under his boots on Ontario St. in Hochelaga, each step leads him to an undetermined destination. Though he’s currently refuged on a hidden street corner in a “non-declared shelter” to avoid the frigid temperature, he tends to avoid legitimate centres, fearing not only the loss of his autonomy but also not having access to the varying services he so desperately needs. “There are things that we need that are not allowed in shelters. When we need to take care of our morale, sometimes we hastily move to illegal aid even if we don’t have a choice.”

 Limited capacities and service closures at shelters stemming from Omicron have steered some homeless people back to the streets.

On top of this, January has not been forgiving towards people who have either chosen or who have been refused access to shelters, as two homeless people have died within the past month. Those nights frigid temperatures dropped to -25 degrees Celsius.

 Centres everywhere are feeling the constraints caused by Omicron. Welcome Hall Mission’s CEO Sam Watts can attest that organizations less fortunate than his own are feeling the effects, such as a lack of funding and resources. “There are a lot of organizations that have had to reel in their activities, in some cases shut down permanently or temporarily and who’ve struggled to supply adequate services for people in need.”  

  According to Mobilizing for Milton-Parc founder Sophie Hart, some shelters closed due to a lack of preparation for Omicron. “Shelters are congregated settings. Everyone eats together and sleeps in close proximity of each other.” 

This setting creates a higher risk of transmissibility, prompting shelters to limit admissions. “[The] services they use when they need support are having to limit what they can offer,” Hart said. She’s personally dealt with people who are scared to catch Omicron.

 Jocelyn is another person that has dealt with homelessness for roughly six months. Having many health problems, he hesitates to admit himself into a shelter solely due to his fear of catching COVID. “People in shelters don’t take care of their hygiene and end up with bacteria, microbes, and viruses,” he said. “I’d rather be out in the cold with a candle than die of COVID.”

 According to Watts, there are two main reasons why some prefer autonomous living. One reason is based on some people exhibiting independence as a character trait, and another relates to the notion of social connectedness. 

“One of the reasons people fall into homelessness is due to a loss of social connectivity, if you don’t have that network anymore you have lost that ability to connect into the system,” said Watts.

 The rules put in place in shelters across Montreal have people like Hugo think twice about administering themselves into centres for help. “You have to be in accordance with the social workers whose job it is to fill in their own responsibilities for your safety.”

 Though there are challenges regarding a “loss of freedom” that some people in shelters complain of, Watts considers these less like rules, and rather, expectations on how to behave within a shelter. “When you’re living in any kind of community setting, there are expectations people have,” Watts said. “A lot of people don’t like to live under certain norms and expectations and choose to live on the outside.”

 Though two deaths outside of shelters are already too many, Watts believes that these outcomes are a product of an already flawed system that must welcome reform. Both Hart and Watts believe that a more tailored system is needed in order to accommodate the many varying needs and problems homeless people face. “What we should move towards are services for a variety of people,” Hart said. “There has to be services created for everybody in mind,” 

 According to Watts, the way in which people are currently cared for are based on principles of charity that must modernize within the 21st century. “It’s a handout, it’s ‘here take this,’ and then come back tomorrow and we’ll give you the same thing again.”

 What Watts proposes is a system of “urban healthcare” that mirrors the steps one would experience when going to the hospital. “You’re registered, you’re triaged, you’re evaluated, a bunch of questions are asked of you, the healthcare professionals understand what the issue is, and chances are you get moved onto some other place in the hospital network where you can get the care that you need,” Watts said.

 Watts is optimistic that a well connected, properly funded network will improve not only transparency between shelters and the homeless population, but also help them improve upon their situation. “Not that homelessness will disappear, but somebody who is experiencing homelessness will not have to wander around for months or years in a network of disconnected, charitably-oriented organizations to get care. They’ll be part of a continuum of care that actually seeks to help a person to get from A to B to C.”


Photo by Kaitlynn Rodney


Life of L’Ange

From a man who once lived on the streets to one who now gives back to his community in any way he can, Gaëtan Ouellet’s life inspires him to support those in need

Trigger Warning: The following includes mentions of suicide, addiction, and mental illness.

A life of ups and downs best describes a man who, through the toughest of hardships, continues to keep his head above water. Someone who strives to be a positive influence to those around him who are struggling, as he once was. From being someone who got offered a helping hand when he needed it most to now being that person who lends a hand, Gaëtan Ouellet remains a man of perseverance and humility.

Ouellet is well known in the Old Port of Montreal, and more specifically known by the name “Ange.” His nickname grew out of his previous acts of generosity in parking lots. Beginning in the mid ‘90s — back when parking meters could be filled at individual machines set up for each spot —  Ouellet would take pleasure in filling them out for people before parking security showed up to issue them a ticket. When car owners noticed Ouellet saving them from a ticket, they would ask for his name.

“I’m just a guardian angel looking out for people. They call me Gaë-tange,” he would reply.

Those who discovered who their parking meter angel was often thanked him by offering small gestures, such as meals, money, or cigarettes.

People’s small offerings were not the motivators behind his actions. Although people’s kindness meant the world to him, all he expected was a simple “thank you.” Simply put, Ouellet enjoys helping others, and that’s that.

Growing up in Gaspésie on the east coast of Quebec, Ouellet had a rural upbringing. At the age of six, his father moved their family to Montreal after having trouble finding work in their area and he has been here ever since.

Ouellet’s early adult life began to take off when he took a welding course. He had an interest in the technique behind the craft and had studied it at a trade school in Saint-Henri. He ended up earning a steady income for five years as a welder and then moved on, working at Québecor binding magazines for 23 years. Things were looking up for Ouellet, until everything suddenly came crumbling down.

Looking back, the year 1994 marks a difficult time in Ouellet’s life. In the span of one week, he had lost his job due to layoffs and came home to find his roommate’s body —who was also a childhood friend of 32 years — hanging in their apartment. This line of horrific events led Ouellet into a dark cycle of drinking and heavy drug consumption of heroin and cocaine. Four months after being taken in by his family and friends as a temporary solution, Ouellet found himself alone, homeless, and on the streets of the Old Port of Montreal.

“Living on the street, you need a vice to forget you’re living on the street,” said Ouellet.

The homeless community of Montreal was never a stranger to Ouellet. Growing up, he would spend most of his free time around the Old Port. Ironically, years before finding himself homeless, Ouellet came to know an elderly homeless man whose health was in poor condition. He recalls the man being concerned about what would happen to his physical spot on the street once he was gone. Ouellet remembers the man sharing that if ever Ouellet was to be in tough times, his spot would become available soon as the man knew he wouldn’t be here much longer.

The elderly man’s spot soon became Ouellet’s first home on the streets of Montreal.

“It’s funny how life works,” said Ouellet. “It makes you realize we are not that different from one another.”

No one is prepared for the moment when they realize that bartering for their next meal is one of their only options for food. They don’t expect to find themselves desperately picking through ashtrays on the city sidewalk in hopes of finding a cigarette that isn’t fully smoked. Living on the streets, Ouellet was faced with this hard-hitting reality. For nine years, he was begging strangers to get by.

It’s often easier to think of the hardships that we face in life as temporary situations. Ones that won’t last long. For Ouellet, along with many others who find themselves in a similar situation, finding their next meal or having to endure weather of all kinds, lasted longer than he would have liked.

His days under the influence of heavy drugs and alcohol were spent begging for change at traffic lights and slurring words at passersby. The reaction on people’s faces was telling. They were not willing to help someone in an intoxicated state. Instead, he realized that they would be more willing to give to someone who was looking to help themselves. He knew his behaviour was not an effective way to appeal to people’s sympathy and generosity.

Ouellet takes out the garbage for a Vieux Montreal business, Montreal, Quebec, October 4, 2021. In exchange for services such as this one, “l’Ange du Vieux Montreal” is fed. CHRISTINE BEAUDOIN/The Concordian

Over the years, Ouellet learned that if this was to be his lifestyle for the time being, he had to make some changes in order to survive. Once he was clean and no longer being consumed by his vices, Ouellet decided to offer his free time to performing small tasks which became a new way to meet his needs of meals and clothing.

Gaëtan Ouellet, also known as “l’Ange du Vieux Montreal”, cleans up dust and spider webs from a restaurant’s window, Montreal, Quebec, October 4, 2021. CHRISTINE BEAUDOIN/The Concordian

On an average day, Ouellet can be found spending the better part of his time lending people a helping hand on Saint-Paul St. in Montreal’s Old Port. From brooming store fronts, washing windows, to shoveling walkways during the winter months, Ouellet’s acts of generosity are done with nothing asked in return.

From 2007 onwards, Ouellet began performing odd jobs for local businesses. Every now and then, he brings in garbage bins and occasionally fills in for dishwasher duty. While Ouellet may not be employed by anyone in particular, the 12 clients that he helps out from time to time provide him with food and clothing in exchange for his services.

Ouellet, Old Montreal’s “Angel”, takes out recycling bags from an Old Montreal alleyway, October 4, 2021. Some mornings, Gaetan wakes up early to do his rounds of trash removal in the area. CHRISTINE BEAUDOIN/The Concordian

Living as a homeless person, he came into contact with several influential people, including celebrities such as Carlos Santana, by chance, through mutual friends. Judges, lawyers and restaurant owners like Chuck Hughes are also acquaintances Ouellet has formed bonds with. Ouellet’s down-to-earth and friendly personality even got him invited out to lunch by judges who were looking for company during their lunch break. He noticed his presence on the street made a difference. On the odd day when he didn’t follow his usual routine, familiar faces would ask him why they had missed him and where he had been.

Notably, 2021 marks 19 years since Ouellet got sober. He attributes his success in getting clean to a good friend, now a lawyer, who he met while living on the streets. When he could no longer stand to see him in this state, Ouellet’s newfound friend called an ambulance so he could get admitted to the hospital for help; the first step taken on the road to recovery.

This lawyer friend paid for Ouellet’s four month stay at the Louis-H. Lafontaine psychiatric hospital, which got Ouellet clean and provided medication for his health issues.

It is also thanks to this lawyer friend that he now has a government-subsidized apartment to come home to, as well as a place to offer others to stay if they need a roof over their head and a good night’s rest.

Despite no longer living on the streets, Ouellet still gets up everyday to support those within his community, whether they be homeless, business owners, or just people passing by.

The sun rises over Old Montreal, the place Ouellet, “Angel”, calls home, October 4, 2021. CHRISTINE BEAUDOIN/The Concordian

In the fall of 2020, Ouellet began devoting his free time to residents of the Notre-Dame Street camping site because of the large volume of people who continued to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the help of volunteers, he aided in distributing donated goods, such as clothes and food. Eventually, they managed to find long-term homes for 16 people at the campsite, providing them with an affordable rented space when sharing the cost amongst groups of two.

Ouellet recently got contacted on Sept. 19 by the Old Brewery Mission who provide services to the homeless in Montreal. He was asked to help them out given how he’s familiar with the community in need and could make them feel more comfortable in accepting the help. He went out to the corner of Berri and Sainte-Catherine St. to help homeless citizens in the area. The team focused on preparations for upcoming weather changes, so heavier jackets and boots were distributed in addition to access to a barber and foot care services for those in need.

As someone who once lived that reality, Ouellet knows first hand the needs of people living on the street. Access to foot care and acceptable personal hygiene resources are as necessary as warm clothes and appropriate footwear. It’s this type of knowledge that Ouellet feels thankful to have when lending a helping hand to those in need.

Ouellet places a mat in front of Tommy’s cafe for people to sit on in Old Montreal, Quebec, October 4, 2021. CHRISTINE BEAUDOIN/The Concordian

Ouellet is the proud father of three daughters. While they have been in and out of his life during his time on the streets, his bond with them has grown now that he is clean. He enjoys the time with his six grandchildren who brighten up his days. He feels fortunate to have gotten sober. He says that he now feels like he can fully appreciate and enjoy the years ahead with his family. What does the future have in store for his retirement years? Ouellet doesn’t have a set plan just yet.

Ouellet says that he is happy where he is now and is grateful for the opportunity to help others. Lending a helping hand to those he sees sleeping on park benches for nights at a time fulfills him with a sense of gratitude.

Life has its ups and downs for every individual in any community. Some people’s challenges may be more visible than others. Kindness is universal and can go a long way in impacting how someone’s story plays out. In rising above hardships, we have the ability to look beyond those less than perfect times in our lives with compassion. It is that compassion that allows us to put ourselves in others’ shoes. Ouellet reminds us that everyone has a story and, more importantly, that everyone is human.

“Are we really that different? I look at the human side of every person that I meet whether they be officials such as police officers, judges or just humans that need support. They are all the same in my eyes, I help everyone in good faith,” said Ouellet.


Visuals by Christine Beaudoin



Protest against controversial curfew and increasing police power

Over 100 people gathered to protest against the curfew that is impacting the homeless and potentially giving more power to the police

In response to the rising cases of COVID-19 in Quebec, the provincial government has enacted a controversial curfew, which is seen to negatively impact the homeless and people in poverty. There has been public outcry and protests against the curfew.

The group responsible for the demonstration on Jan. 16, Pas de solution policière à la crise sanitaire, stated the protest was to push back on the increased power being given to the police.

In a press release, the organization stated they do not affiliate with right-wing groups, such as the anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests that have taken place in recent months.

“This demonstration aims to denounce the political choice of Legault’s government to impose a curfew throughout Quebec in response to the increase in cases, by hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19,” read the statement. “After 10 months of a health crisis, the CAQ is again opting for the police solution.”

In a public statement, the group said that the goal of the protest was to denounce the use of police in a public health crisis, and encourage the government to relocate those funds in a more effective manner.

Let us stand in solidarity in the face of police repression, let us learn not to leave anyone behind,” said the statement.

“The police presence really affects the homeless people in a negative way, because they are trying to avoid the police,” said Jessica Quijano, a spokesperson for the Defund the Police Coalition and a member of the Iskweu Project, an initiative of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

Quijano spoke about the recent death of an Innu man that was living on the streets. According to a CTV article, the man froze to death near the Open Door homeless shelter, which due to the COVID-19 restrictions, was no longer allowed to have clients overnight.

Quijano explained that police presence doesn’t help in a pandemic; she used the criminalization of people during the AIDS crisis as an example.

We can’t trust the police to use their discretion, because we know that the SPVM has a history of racism,” she said.

“At least offer a house to the homeless, and not just shelters, places where people could isolate and be comfortable,” she said, explaining that the best solution to the issue is giving the homeless resources. “Not giving people tickets, not to people that are already in poverty.”

Quijano explained that before the curfew was implemented, there were outbreaks in shelters and homeless people who had tested positive were walking around in public. The curfew has just added to the shelters’ struggles to serve the homeless community in a safe way.

“It makes you really question the legitimacy of the public health [association] when they are making these decisions,” Quijano said.

On Tuesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called for homeless people to be exempt from the curfew, but later that day during a COVID-19 press brief, Premier François Legault rejected it, as he believes people would impersonate the homeless to get out of curfew.

The SPVM said in a statement that officers have to show tolerance and judgement in their interventions with the homeless.

“Before giving a ticket, each situation is analyzed in consideration of the specific context and particularities,” read the statement. “If it’s possible, officers can also accompany these persons to the appropriate resources.”

“These are necessary measures to counter the spread of the virus,” said Marie-Louise Harvey, media spokesperson for the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, who explained that the priority of the curfew and the restrictions was to lessen strain on hospitals.

She also stated that while the ministry has no official survey of the population’s view of the curfew, “It does know that a certain percentage of the population is unhappy with the situation.”


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


New homeless shelter in downtown Montreal: a temporary solution to a deeper problem

The shelter’s opening became controversial following complaints from business owners

On Nov. 3, a temporary winter emergency shelter opened its doors at Hotel Place Dupuis in downtown Montreal. While the new overnight shelter raised concerns among local merchants, its operator believes the new location is not responsible for unlawful activity in the neighbourhood.

Located near the Berri-UQAM metro station, the overnight shelter will provide 380 beds for those who need a place to stay during the cold winter months. It is operated by Welcome Hall Mission, a charity organization that has been supporting Montrealers dealing with homelessness and poverty since 1892.

According to Samuel Watts, the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, the shelter’s opening was part of a broader plan for dealing with the reality of COVID-19, as well as the usual winter measures that are necessary in Montreal.

“We don’t want to have people out on the streets, especially in the cold weather,” said Watts in an interview with The Concordian.

However, despite providing a safe and warm place to spend the night, the shelter sparked tensions with the neighbourhood’s business owners. Sébastien Caron, co-owner of a Copper Branch restaurant located just three blocks away, believes that the project’s lack of supervision creates an unsafe environment in the area.

“Employees are afraid to come to work. The walk from the metro station to the restaurant is quite intimidating: they’re screaming and threatening us. Our customers tell me the same thing,” said Caron.

However, Watts said that the shelter cannot control what happens on the nearby streets, especially since drug trafficking and violence are not new to the area. In fact, the shelter is located across from Place Émilie-Gamelin, “a square that’s been nefarious for a variety of illegal activities for the past 25 years,” according to Watts.

Watts added, “It’s disingenuous for the merchants to suggest that the shelter is increasing and adding these problems that have long existed in the area.”

On Nov. 26, the temporary winter shelter welcomed 237 people to stay the night. Hotel Place Dupuis had over 100 available beds that day for anybody else who wished to stay at the shelter. For Watts, however, having a large capacity is not something he would consider an achievement.

Reducing the demand for such shelters and providing permanent affordable housing should be Montreal’s solution to homelessness, according to Watts. He added, “The notion that we need to continue building up the emergency shelter capacity is equal to insanity.”

Indeed, even with over 35 homeless shelters around the city, Montreal still faces a worrying homelessness problem. According to Mayor Valérie Plante, anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 Montrealers this year do not have a place they can call home.

Moreover, Plante announced that homelessness has recently become a more alarming issue.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve noticed that there’s more and more people that are actually in the streets,” said Plante while giving a tour of the shelter on its opening day.

Therefore, Watts believes that all parties — homeless organizations, business owners, and the government — should come together and collectively aim for solving this problem, especially since it became even more serious during the pandemic.

“What COVID-19 has taught us,” Watts explained, “is that there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There’s only us, and we have to find ways of working together.”

The Hotel Place Dupuis shelter will operate throughout the winter season until March 31, 2021.


Photograph by Kit Mergaert


The vicious cycle of publishing viral videos

Are we the generation that uses social media to both humiliate and help vulnerable people?

It is no secret that we are all consumed by social media. It can be a very positive outlet as much as a very negative one—again, most of us know that. As a society, we either celebrate one another or take each other down using these platforms. It has become very common for people to be ridiculed over situations that could have gone unnoticed.

However, as a generation, we have a conditioned reflex to record every little thing so it can be viewed by the entire world. Okay, maybe not the entire world, but when we choose to upload something, we are accepting the fact that there’s a possibility it might go viral––whether or not that was our intention.

Not too long ago, a video on social media depicting a Dunkin’ Donuts employee dumping a bucket of water on a homeless man went viral. The man was resting his head while charging his phone in the restaurant. The incident was recorded and posted online for the world to see. That man wasn’t bothering anyone and, homeless or not, didn’t deserve such hostile treatment. On top of it, this awful moment was captured on video, to be watched countless times by innumerable strangers.

As a member of our generation, I can’t help but ask: Are we hypocritical? Here we are using social media to ridicule the less fortunate because it amuses us, yet we also promote GoFundMe accounts and share videos that show these same vulnerable people being cared for and shown compassion. Do you see the hypocrisy?

Fortunately, the Dunkin’ Donuts employee and a few other workers involved in the accident have since been fired, according to The New York Times, and a crowdfunding campaign has raised over $13,000 for the homeless man. Here lies my next question: Why do we do it? Are we so self-absorbed that we record our acts of kindness solely to reap the compliments later? If not, why do we ridicule homeless people for our own amusement?

Just a few months ago, another viral video showed a homeless man shaving on a New York City metro. People posted horrible comments about him, calling him a “slob” and an “animal,” according to Global News. The man did not realize he was being filmed and was shocked to learn that the video received more than 2.4 million views online. Would it have been too much for someone to tap him on the shoulder and kindly inform him about the norm of not shaving on public transportation, instead of recording him and ridiculing him on social media?

There is no doubt that many people reading this article will blame the issue on millennials. It is important to note that this generation is not the only generation at fault. The people who comment on videos are people of all ages and are in the wrong just as much as the people who film these humiliating moments. We start these bullying campaigns and stress the importance of spreading awareness around it, yet we are the first to perpetuate this vicious cycle with our smartphones. Let us prove society wrong by using our morals instead of our camera phones.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin



We have a responsibility to help those in need

Anti-homeless infrastructure isn’t the only thing hurting the homeless—our lack of attention is too

I’m sure you’ve seen the guy who sits in front of the garbage cans at Guy-Concordia metro, with his “Kindness is not a weakness” sign leaning next to him and a perpetually empty Tim Horton’s cup at his feet. He’s there everyday, quietly asking for change or a meal.

Around Remembrance Day, another man appeared in the metro station to collect donations and give out poppies. In a surprising twist, the people who never before had change in their pockets for the man begging everyday were able to produce quarters and loonies for the poppies.

Most people rarely give money to panhandlers and are uncomfortable having homeless people loitering in public places. When fewer homeless people are visible, we don’t ask questions about where they went—we are just relieved the metro station is a little calmer. So it’s not a surprise to me that Montreal has anti-homeless infrastructure, because it teaches us that homelessness is best kept out of sight and out of mind. But problems don’t go away by ignoring them.

Ever wonder why the seats at Laurier metro are floating cubes? Or why all the benches downtown have armrests segmenting the seats? Presumably, it’s to stop people from lying down in these areas, namely homeless people who might not have anywhere else to rest. I believe it’s our city’s way of saying we prefer that they sleep on the ground or don’t sleep in public places.

We need to change the way we think about homeless people in our society. Homelessness is not a lifetime sentence, nor is it a person’s defining feature. We need to see those without a fixed address for who they are: people in need of help.

It can be uncomfortable to talk to some homeless people. They can be dirty, smelly, intoxicated or all of the above. Now imagine how it feels to be the person in that position. Most of us live very comfortable lives, but sometimes we need to leave our comfort zone to solve difficult issues. A great way to help someone in need would be to acknowledge them and give them the 25 cents in your pocket. We can criticize the city for handling the problem poorly, or we can directly support the people suffering from the city’s lack of attention.

In my view, homeless shelters don’t work. They are overcrowded and can be expensive and dirty, creating an environment prone to disease and crime. Researchers at McGill University found that it costs $50,000 a year to care for one mentally ill homeless person, according to CBC News. This is an insane sum, especially considering it doesn’t seem to be reducing the homeless population in Montreal. Global News reported that the Welcome Hall Mission shelter had 2,700 new clients in 2017.

In my opinion, landlords should pay less property tax if they rent to people transitioning from life on the street. Businesses should receive a tax break for employing people recovering from homelessness. This way those stuck in a bad place have more opportunities to pull themselves out of a hole. I believe there are much more effective and sympathetic ways of preventing people from sleeping in public places.

We should all feel guilty when we see someone begging. We are young, compassionate, intelligent people who are in a position powerful enough to protest the inhumane treatment of a group of people. When a homeless person protests being stuck on the street, they are cuffed or removed by security. When we protest the circumstances homeless people are stuck in, we are given media coverage and called activists. It’s strange how we blame those who are in need. This poisonous mindset doesn’t solve the problem, and it needs to be changed.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Student Life

Knit-o-thon for Montreal’s homeless

Join SAF’s heartwarming initiative to make scarves for those in need as the weather turns colder

With winter’s icy embrace right around the corner, Sustainability Action Fund Concordia’s (SAF) latest drive will leave you with a warm heart.

On Nov. 6, from 12 to 6 p.m., the SAF will be holding a knit-o-thon in the SAF office, located at 2070 Mackay St., in room EN-300.

The goal is to knit 50 scarves to distribute among the homeless.

This initiative grew organically out of the organization’s focus on social sustainability. According to Ariel Dabora, SAF’s financial vice president, various SAF members have been volunteering with the Benedict Labre House since the beginning of session. The Benedict Labre House is a day centre for the homeless focusing on providing hot meals, food bags, clothing, and hot showers to those in need.

Organized through Hillel, these visits to the Benedict Labre House every Tuesday have been instrumental to the initiative. During this period, SAF members have “been building relationships and seeing that it is getting colder out,” said Dabora. From this initial observation the concept for the knit-o-thon was born.

The event itself will be as much like a knitting circle as a marathon event. Students are welcome to stop by for as long or as little time as they wish. Volunteer instructors will be on hand to aid novice knitters in their first creations. Yarn and needles will likewise be provided. Experts are also welcome to stop by to help, and chat over the food spread provided. This will allow not only the production of scarves, but a wonderful opportunity to meet other knitters.

It is estimated that the scarves themselves will take longer than the time provided to finish. Participants will be able to take their work home with them. A collection box, situated outside of the SAF office, will be available to collect all finished products and loaned materials. Participants are asked to bring them back, if possible, by Tuesday Nov. 11.

All completed scarves will be delivered to the Benedict Labre House. It is hoped, as the initiative grows, that deliveries may be made to other shelters in the Montreal area as well.

Although the first initiative of its kind, this knit-o-thon will most certainly not be the last. Dabora hopes that students’ responses will be such that similar events can be held periodically, perhaps as frequently as once a month.

For students, the knit-o-thon provides an excuse to step back from the rush of the midterm season, socialize, learn new skills, and help those  i need.

For more information on the event visit “SAF presents: Knit-O-Thon” on Facebook.


Documenting the utopian home of the homeless

Eric Weissman’s PhD defense wins rare honour

As an academic, one can only dream that their work could have a real-life impact — or at least one should strive for that endgame as far as Concordia sociology professor and recent recipient of the Canadian Association for Graduates Studies Distinguished Dissertation Award  Eric Weissman is concerned.

Weissman won the award, given for a dissertation that makes an unusually significant and original contribution to a field, as a PhD graduate from Concordia’s Individualized Program (INDI) project, a Graduate Studies program created to cater to a limited number of exceptional students wishing to undertake specific individual research.

“I think if you’re in school you need to be academically rigorous but you also need to apply your eye, your lens and your skills to solving social issues that need to be resolved,” said Weissman on the overlap between the longtime project and his PhD studies and the research that is changing not only the way but where many live their lives.

A filmmaker, author, and ethnographer in addition to his sociology professorship, Weissman can’t really be placed in a box. His dissertation, “Spaces, Places and States of Mind: a pragmatic ethnography of liminal critique,” looks at the United States’ first city-sanctioned shantytown, Dignity Village. Dignity Village, on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, came about when dozens of homeless individuals banded together and used social activism to create an independent community catering to their needs. The camp fought the state of Oregon for recognition of important American values like the right to shelter and organized themselves with lawyers, campaigns and housing advocates, eventually getting Portland to recognize it as, in the words of Weissman, an “ emergency transitional campground.”

What they also did is create a model for other communities wishing to put that creative spin on putting a heavy dent in homelessness. Dignity Village pitched a homeless utopia as part of their case for shelter: their vision entailed community kitchens, enterprises and gardens in an aesthetic, rustic environment.

“They pitched this perfect utopia. They never managed to live up to that,” said Weissman. Cost as well as poor location (it was built on a section of asphalt near the Portland airport) left their utopian gardens a dream on the drafting papers.

Weissman said he hopes his dissertation, highly critical of Dignity Village and its chronic problem of self-medicating with alcohol and drugs that left inhabitants unable to self-govern, helps make it so that similar intentional communities have the groundwork, and its potential mistakes, laid out for them.

“Dignity Village can’t really run itself because they’re too busy fighting with each other,” Weissman explained of the problems plaguing the community. “These new places [by contrast] have strict policies on drugs and alcohol.”

Weissman has personally visited six such communities in the United States, all based on the same kind of utopian model as Dignity Village, though there are possibly hundreds more. One example is Community First! Village in Central Texas. The 27-acre community aims to give not just shelter but a home to 200 people and has already successfully provided for 99 disabled and chronically homeless residents. The community is built of canvas guest cottages, repurposed mobile homes, and trendy tiny homes.

“These new villages appeal to this mass sentiment about living smaller, leaving less of an imprint.” Weissman said. When Weissman visited the Community First! Village, the director explained to him that, “this isn’t a political statement [like Diginity Village], it’s a way to give people affordable housing again.”

That, Weissman thinks, is the real issue with homelessness. “It’s not about drugs, it’s not about addictions, although people who become homeless tend to exhibit those problems after some time,” Weissman said frankly, “it’s about affordable housing.”

Being able to provide housing is the first step in aiding a host of social problems, and Weissman says it almost always adds to the dignity and quality of life of participants. Take for example Chez Soi/At Home, a four-year cross-Canadian experiment in five major cities, including Montreal. The study looks at housing as a first method of managing homeless and mental health problems, along with medical and psychological support. The results  not only improved the residents’ situations by limiting the associated recidivism of street life but saved a substantial amount of money in the process: inpatient costs were offset on average by an estimated $14,003.

“I think that we need to know that we can change the way people think about the solutions to our social problems,” said Weissman, who is certainly doing his part. His next destination is San Antonio, Texas as a keynote speaker for the Texas Homelessness Network, and he will be in good company, bringing along two Dignity Village residents to talk about their experiences. “I don’t really do things unless I see that it can have a concrete result,” concluded Weissman. And his results have literally been laid in concrete, canvas, and community.

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