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Forum Post: Montréal, A Beautiful Occupy Story

Posted 9 years ago on Nov. 9, 2011, 4:34 p.m. EST by Thrasymaque (-2138)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

MONTREAL - Almost every evening, Stéphane Marceau is lending a hand to the city's homeless.

One night he might be washing and dressing feet raw from fungal infections. Other nights he's dispensing pacifying doses of alcohol to men on a withdrawal rampage. Sometimes, all he provides is a warm cup of coffee.

Usually, he does this out of his truck at any downtown street, but over the last week he has been a regular sight at Victoria Square, base camp of Occupy Montreal.

"I heard that's where a lot of them are, so I went there," said Marceau, a psychiatric nurse who runs the Groupe Humanitaire Montréal charity in his spare time.

Depending on whom you ask, there are between 15 and 40 homeless people at Victoria Square, better known as the People's Square since the anticapitalist occupation took it over last month.

Some of them spend the night in a spare tent, others just come for the free food during the day.

Aid workers, like Marceau, are taking notice.

"In an ideal world they'd be in the hospital or a shelter," Marceau said. "But someone at the occupation might encounter a homeless person who is drunk or in need of assistance. That's why we're there."

Since the occupation began on Oct. 15, the tent village that sprouted has been a choice refuge for Montreal's itinerants. Beside the free food, clothing and occasional shelter, they receive a kind of welcome they're not used to getting.

"What they really need is attention; they need to be heard," Marceau said. "Even if it's just to joke around, there's always someone here to hear them."

But their presence also presents a challenge: Confrontations, sparked by drunkenness or psychological troubles, are a regular occurrence, especially at night. Theft is becoming a problem.

The activists, whose goal is to shine a light on the downtrodden and marginalized, have formed a security committee. As a matter of principle, they approach flare-ups with a kind of firm diplomacy: If the instigator won't calm down after a polite request, he is asked to leave.

"We just try to calm them down," said Johnny Sansalone, a security volunteer.

"There are drunk people here like anywhere else in society. Except here we actually try to help them."

That help is usually in the form of referral. For specific ailments, Marceau points the affected person to a clinic, shelter or other agency.

But for the most part, forming a bond with the agitated person can go a long way.

"They know me; they recognize me there," Marceau said. "When I arrive during a conflict, they'll say, 'Okay, Steph, it's cool, I'm calmer now.'"

But most occupiers don't have the experience Marceau has. A few organizers approached a homeless shelter for advice on dealing with challenging behaviours.

"We invited them to come and meet with our people who deal with security in a respectful and constructive way," said Matthew Pearce, general director of the Old Brewery Mission. "We'll be happy to collaborate with them."

However, the mission won't send anyone to the camp as an official representative, as the shelter won't take a position on the movement.

Shelter workers have nonetheless been volunteering at the camp on their own.

Rémy Boutros, who has been at the occupation since Day 1, says the goal is to help the homeless integrate in society. For this, they are looking to invite social workers to teach them assimilation strategies.

"These are people who feel excluded from society," Boutros said. "But it's not enough to just have them around. We need to work out how we can help them, show them how to fish."

Marceau said the occupation has already drawn social work students from city universities to get some handson experience dealing with troubled citizens.

Media relations offices of universities contacted by The Gazette said they are not aware of any such programs. However, a social work professor at UQAM is planning a "pedagogical activity" with some students next week, said André Valiquette, spokesperson for the university.

Marceau thinks this kind of training will show them what social work really means.

"The students see that what they learn in class and what happens on the streets are two different things," he said.

"It helps them decide they either love what they do or they change careers."



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[-] 1 points by TheCloser (200) 9 years ago

It's important to help people in need. Thanks for this post. Three cheers to Stephane!

[-] 1 points by Thrasymaque (-2138) 9 years ago

When I was living in Montréal a few years back, I was working as a delivery boy and my partner was quite poor. He could afford an apartment, but to save some money he would sometimes eat at the soup kitchen and I had to tag along since we worked together. It would add an hour to our day, but I went along for the experience.

I was embarrassed at first because I had nice clothes and felt I was freeloading, but it was a nice to meet the homeless and see how they live. Not easy. A lot of them have mental issues and you can see the stress of the lives they lead impregnated in their expressions. A lot of them just want to talk. So we would sit, eat, and talk with new people each time. We went every Saturday for about a year. I was earning my keep as a musician, and I have to say I ate better on the days I went there, they on any other day. They had three course meals. A soup, a meal, then bananas a little cake and coffee. You could take as much as you want.

Since then, I went back a few times to show some of my friends what it was like. To understand society you have to see what the harshest living conditions are. These people seem like outcasts, but to me, they are an important part of the city.

[-] 1 points by TheCloser (200) 9 years ago

You have an enviably healthy approach. I hope you share more good will stories to share.


[-] 0 points by April (3196) 9 years ago

Is this "do gooding" truly good? Or is it part of a march towards socialism/communism?



[-] 1 points by GarnetMoon (424) 9 years ago

Give me a break, April... Isn't this what Jesus would do? Or would he tell them to get lost or get a job???

[-] 1 points by April (3196) 9 years ago

Believe me, it is not a good feeling to be so cynical and suspicious! But I think its important to question some of the things about this movement. I mean, the fist symbol itself, is a symbol of anarchism/communism. And there is communist/socialist/anti-capitalism talk all over this board. So, I think it is a valid question.

If you read the link, you have to wonder, is this a means to somebody elses end?

[-] 1 points by GarnetMoon (424) 9 years ago

I am sorry you like so many people in the USA have been poisoned to believe the anti-socialist hysteria... If you were in a different environment you would understand what I am talking about. Unfortunately, the fear mongers have you and so many others right where they want you... What we have had in this country for a long time is a combination of capitalism and socialism... Somebody else's end is the end of the 99%; I am, and so should you, be concerned about the capitalists that claim that the ONLY system that is valid is capitalism. I believe that it is time for something based on co-operation and respect. This is a far cry from what we have under present day capitalism with starvation wages, increasing poverty, lack of affordable healthcare... Besides, Marx made a lot of valid points. You should read some Marxist economic theory. Professor Richard Wolf of Umass Amherst is a very lucid teacher of economics. He offers free on-line classes. Before you become swept up in the hysteria it pays to be very well informed.

[-] 1 points by invient (360) 9 years ago

Jesus was a capitalist </sarcasm> Peoples welfare be DAMNED!


[-] 1 points by April (3196) 9 years ago

I believe in helping those that need it too! But I can't help but wonder what the agenda of OWS is? When they talk about the reaching out to help others campaigns, after I read the links above. Am I wrong to wonder about OWS intentions?

[-] 0 points by Thrasymaque (-2138) 9 years ago

You should always wonder about the intentions of those who are in politics, or in a position to change the political face of your country. Occupy is very young, and they have not been the most transparent on several issues, so yes, of course you should wonder about their intentions.

Essentially, they have an anarchism pacific background which is drastically different than the draconian capitalism currently in place in US. For them to modify the system like they wish, it would take them years, if not decades. I think it's more about getting their ideas out at this point. The movement is still young so nothing is set yet. But yes, definitely keep your eyes open. For your other parties also, Bush wasn't too grandiose when he dropped PA on you guys.