“He raises the poor out of the dust,Psalm 113:7
And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,”
I’ve had a lot of curiosity about what life must be like for people who live in totally different circumstances, when social order just isn’t the same. I find homelessness compelling because it is a stabilized catastrophe. People will get worked up over natural disasters on the other side of the world, and yet something similar is happening around us all the time. The issue divides and confuses people. Many don’t know who to blame or how to help. When governments work up enough momentum to tackle the problem, their efforts don’t always succeed.
I visited two men’s shelters in Montreal and asked four questions to around fifty self-described homeless or formerly homeless men to hear their thoughts. At least as many men declined to respond. Not everyone answered all of the questions. I grouped similar answers together and tallied the multiples. Answers are organized by topic. Some respondents gave multiple answers to one question, and I separated those. Some were comfortable to describe their thoughts at length. There were many different perspectives. Some had negative or positive views of the government, the public, aid organizations, or other homeless. The sum of the responses gave a richer sense of their circumstances, and can help us focus on real problems or misperceptions.
One thing I was surprised by was things that could be done to help that are simple and cost nothing, like creating and distributing a list of services, or spending a little time helping someone work through life’s logistics. I hope you find the responses to this survey thought provoking and inspiring.
1) What are your highest priority needs that can be donated to you?
Place to sleep (x13)
Change of clothes (x8)
Socks and underwear (x2)
Boots and shoes at the beginning of the season
Jeans, belt, boots
Hygiene (Important for a job) soap, toothbrushes (x3)
A job (x2)
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
A doctor (The gentleman went 13 times, no diagnosis)
Artist who wants supplies and a place to paint
2) What are your biggest obstacles to becoming self-sufficient?
Affordable housing (x7)
Not enough money (x10)
Not having enough money. It’s very expensive to be on the street.
Money, capitalism, a system contrary to my values.
I would like the government to pay half of my rent. Rent went up. To live on $700, it’s impossible.
On disability, not enough money.
Saving money (alcohol addiction)
I drink out of frustration. I don’t even want to be drunk. I don’t know why I do it, I just do it.
Physical illness and fatigue (x2)
Lack of mobility (crutches)
Mental illness (x3)
Social housing (One man said he applied for housing 17 years ago, and is still on the waiting list.) (x3)
Not enough housing available (x2)
Lack of jobs (x2)
Formerly homeless person: When people are treated like babies, they don’t see a need to go out and take care of themselves. Homeless people eat better than a lot that work. The welfare check is beside food and bed, and many spend it on gambling. It is harder when you work and get less money after expenses. They get used to getting everything for nothing with no time limit.
Not enough services
For people 65 and up there is no one to help find rent. People don’t care. They are in it for the money. Only a few listen. It takes 301 days to get a family doctor. They don’t treat retirees well. The dismiss them.
A man who lives on the street: The places that give meals are all over the place. It takes a lot of time to go from place to place.
Not enough help to find a way, someone to give council, someone to give a goal.
Doing things on my own because I haven’t done that for a long time.
A bed to sleep is not helping me at all. It’s just procrastinating. You have to push social workers to help you. Being displaced makes you lazy. The food is given, the bed is given. What do you do all day? Nothing. Aimlessness leads to crime.
These places take away initiative. They’re not really helping. It’s a temporary fix. They’re not thorough. They don’t do anything for you. [For example, certain legal, business, financial, or other bureaucratic and technical responsibilities.] There is no case manager to do those sorts of things. We could use a place to list services like that.
Counselors also procrastinate or have excuses. Is he obligated?
A place like this makes you lazy because you have no direction or accountability. I would like someone to give me a kick and say I’m capable, and ask if I can do this today, and show me the address. You have to go to places you’ve never been and they ask you for things like birth certificates, etc. They complicate things, so it becomes another obstacle you have to overcome besides basic needs.
Very bored here. Very unmotivated. This place gives me the chills. And I don’t want to like this place.
Social workers can get in the way of becoming self-sufficient sometimes.
Cops giving tickets that can’t be paid back
People who come out of jail have a record, have to deal with parole, and may not know how to use modern technology. (x2)
Dealing with the rental board. My roommate didn’t pay rent.
The system is so slow, even with a lawyer.
Laws, regulations, and bureaucracies
The requirement to sign a long term lease before being comfortable
I have been an immigrant for 2 years and haven’t received my work permit
Not enough time
The government doesn’t help. They promise, but don’t help. They don’t talk about the homeless.
Social profiling : people learn to despise people who hang around and don’t work. It’s a spiritual fight everywhere.
People don’t know what it’s like. They see the homeless as an eyesore.
It is open season to discriminate against the homeless.
The need for good references
A bad environment, with drugs, mental illness, and negativity
Lying, stealing, lack of forgiveness, lack of kindness and community. People used to be more open and connected.
Some people didn’t make the cut. You have to be sharp and do things right.
Lack of education
I don’t speak French.
I haven’t mastered English.
Rent discrimination based on language
You can’t get a job without a place to sleep.
Living on the street makes it hard to sleep, and not sleeping makes it hard to do other things. On the streets you survive, but with an apartment you can think of more things.
Tents in alleys are being pushed away because condos are built nearby.
My life and everything in it
I can leave; I’m just used to the community of the shelter.
3) What are some legal tips you could give other homeless people?
Don’t be a criminal (x4)
Don’t steal (x2)
Don’t do bad things
Stay clean (x4)
Respect the cops
Respect the citizens
Respect people if you want to be respected. Don’t bother women.
Respect people’s rights and know your rights
Get a good lawyer
There is a free mobile legal clinic for the homeless
Be concerned less with others and more with yourself
If someone is kind to you, remember the kindness of others
Feel good about yourself
Think positively everyday
Do things faster
Find a shelter and a program (x4)
Find places where things are donated
Don’t sleep outside when it’s -40 Celcius
If people know about services, they won’t go hungry. Accueuil Bonneau gives out around 600 meals per day.
Ordinarily, I don’t take names, but one gentleman insisted I include his. I got his remarks through an interpreter. Michael Levesque: Find resources. The money only goes for some people. The rich are getting richer. They are only building condos, not building for the poor. Valérie Plante talks but makes nothing. There is an empty building across the street. Plante says she is waiting for money from the government. We need cheaper housing. In Ontario they take the price of the apartment out of the welfare check, but we don’t do that in Quebec, I don’t know why. It’s a good idea. It would help with the problem of people not paying rent.
Flee the city. In the country there is peace.
Get a job (x7)
Don’t stay too long with services.
I have gotten back on my feet in 10 days. I went to all of the storefronts and offered to wash and caulk windows. Find a guy who has an apple orchard. Someone picks up workers; it’s easy work. Farms are a good place to look for work. In the winter you can shovel snow, deliver groceries, and assist the elderly. Write “I need work” on your sign. Go into restaurants, say you’re hungry, and offer to sweep or do dishes.
Just talk and live together; help each other; teach each other how to manage.
People should not think they already know, but try to understand each other.
Suggestion box for homeless people to use
4) Is there anything you would like others to pray for?
To help us
That we get out of this mess we’re in
Security of the homeless
For respect and order
For the people in the shelter who are sick
To wake up in the morning and breathe the next day
For me and people like me that are stuck in here
That all goes well
A better outcome
Kindness of heart
Pray for each other
For people to know better
To end poverty
Stop world suffering
World peace (x2)
To remain in peace
For a spiritual awakening
To believe in God
For Messiah to come fast
That Jesus always stays beside me
To do something that would make God smile
To be sincere towards God and his son Jesus
I don’t need another thing to worry about (religion). I need to worry about my basic needs.
Pray for housing
That more houses are built
To find shelter
To obtain citizenship
To have interesting work
Hope of living a suitable life
These are some other general comments that some homeless men made:
I don’t see my kids often because I’m homeless. I want to invite my daughter or son to stay with me. It’s not going to happen here.
The University of Calgary and western Canadian universities do research on homelessness. Around 1996 immigrants moved from East to West Canada, but not everyone had skills, and some partied. It got bad around 1999. Homelessness increased. Quebec is different because almost every homeless person receives a welfare check. The housing market has been down for 20 years. Oil crashed out West, and some of those people bought condos here. There were “Renovictions” for people who had leases. As the demand for housing went up, the prices went up, and the people with leases were priced out.
The government talks about other things, they don’t care about the people.
Instead of spending $70 million on a bridge, spend it on the homeless.
The shelter is full.
There was an isolated old man who went to the hospital for a while, and his landlord wasn’t told and kicked him out of his apartment.
Women have it harder because there is a lot less space for them in the shelters. The homeless demographic is mostly single men.
From 18-35 there is a lot of free education. From 35-60 there is a huge lack of help.
People go to McDonalds, Tim Hortons, or the mall during the night and will nod off. Then a security guard chases them away. The metro is closed from around 1 to 5:30.
Welfare is around $720 per month. With mental issues you get maybe another $200.
The system should give drug tests.
We should teach a man to fish.
We should give people a chance to work.
There is no love, except from the people of Montreal. I was deported to here. It is very good here how they take care of people—food, clothes, a place to sleep, everything.
The social workers are very good.
The poor are a community. car