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Montreal Observations

Craig and his buddy Galen came up again to visit for the weekend. This time they both brought their skateboards. (Unlike the previous weekend when they had four boys here, but only two skateboards.)  One must was a trip to Steve's Music...the massive music store in Old Montreal. It is a city block big! Every musician who comes to Montreal needs to make a trip there (at least if Jim has any say about it).

For dinner we went to a Chinese restaurant that has a nightly buffet. Some of Jim's friends had recommended it to him because it is inexpensive. We walked there and the boys were hungry when we left the apt. We walked. And Walked. and...w.a.l.k.e.d. "Just one more block," Jim would say. Then Jim realized why it was further than he thought....we'd walked by the street! So we backtracked three blocks and then walked down a block. It was about three miles total. Ha! Ha!  Below is a picture of Galen goofing around when we were leaving.

After our meal we walked back to the apt. down St. Catherine Street. Galen seemed to attract many of the mentally ill people or street hustlers. Maybe it is his height or his smile...I don't know...but they targeted him. I know that Canada has universal health care, but it seems as if a large number of people are getting the mental help they deserve. I am surprised by the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets, metro, benches, etc. It seems to me like Montreal has a rather large homeless population, especially since the winters are so long and cold here.

Here's an excerpt from an article about the homeless from the McGill Daily:

"Gino Gosselin, a supervisor at the Old Brewery Mission shelter, an organization providing food for Etat d’urgence, said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people using the mission’s facilities this year.  “I’ve been here for 15 years and it has never been as busy as it is now, and the problem of homelessness is getting worse,” he said.

He said that while he appreciates the publicity his cause is receiving from Etat d’urgence [a group that does a five day feeding festival for the homeless], he believes that it is more important for activists to help find inexpenisve housing and rehabilitation centres for the needy.  “I’m not really angry with Etat d’urgence. I understand it takes a lot of work, but I don’t believe that it is a success,” he said.

François Saillant, Coordinator of the Popular Front for Urban Redevelopment (FRAPRU), agreed, noting that affordable housing in Montreal is becoming increasingly scarce.  “Montreal was much better off a few years ago. Whereas shelters were used infrequently outside of the winter months they are now filled to capacity throughout the year, and the increase of families on the streets is a clear indication of a housing crisis,” he said. "

In that one short walk back, we saw a man who was either mentally ill or on drugs run out in front of a transit bus. I don't know how the driver didn't hit him. It was so frightening..he was screaming and waving his arms and running out into traffic. The police were nearby...two patrol cars talking to a woman on the sidewalk. One of the cars went after the man and then the other patrol car seemed to be chasing someone else. He was running from them, I hope they got him before he killed himself.

I would guess we saw about twenty people or more panhandling....most have cups and just shake them as you walk by...young girls, young men, and old men. I don't really see any elderly women. Some of them have a gimmick to try to get money...washing car windows at stop lights, one old man would ask for a million dollars, but then say he'd settle for a quarter.

Some of the readings I've done on homelessness from Montreal newspapers and television stations indicates that the non-profit groups and activists alike are angry with the Canadian government for not being more active in helping these people. They say the rents in Montreal are prohibitive and has "one of Canada's lowest vacancy rates." (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2002/07/01/moving020701.html) These groups propose the government renovate an abandoned building for low-income housing.

Montreal is one of my favorite cities, but the homelessness problem is one that mars the luster. If the reports are true, the Canadian government has been "looking into the problem" for about four years now, but nothing is getting done.

(According 8.2 million residents in NYC, 33,000 are homeless. Montreal has about 2 million residents, with about 12,000 homeless.)

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