By Sylvie Desjardins, L’Itinéraire
In August , I lost everything: my nice apartment, my money, a lifetime of memories. With my limited finances, I decided to rent a room in the building where I lived. The person who rented out the room to me kept the rent money and kicked me out after ten minutes. I ended up on the street. I went to the Gay Village, a neighbourhood I know well because I had lived there in the past.
Seven years ago, I worked for L’Itinéraire for about four years. I know about all the resources for homeless women, so I took the necessary steps to get a bed in one of the shelters, but it was a lost cause. These places are overcrowded. Because of the huge lack of shelters for women, I had to sleep on the street for two months.
I was lucky; nothing happened to me. I wasn’t attacked, but I was robbed and drugged with GHB – the date rape drug. One evening, I met a man on Sainte-Catherine Street who helped me while I was homeless. He was an angel and he stayed with me for awhile.
Under the stars
In August and September the temperature was excellent. It was hot; very hot. We slept on the river bank in the Old Port. The view of the city of Montréal was magnificent. The Ferris wheel was lit up in purple and a family of ducks came to visit us. But when you wake up in the morning and you have to go to the toilet, nothing’s open: so you do your business, outside, hidden in the bushes. It was a humbling experience.
I’m 60 years old. I have multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis and asthma. The humidity made me suffer so much that I cried every morning. In the two months that I was homeless, I walked so much in the city that I lost 50 pounds and I hurt my feet. I had blisters on all my toes. I suffered enormously. I wonder how I was able to survive and keep my spirits up. During this period, I volunteered in the kitchen at L’Itinéraire. It helped me keep my bearings. I also sold the magazine to make a little money.
There is a resource called Le Sac à Dos [The Backpack], at the corner of De Bullion and Sainte-Catherine, where people can shower in the morning. They serve homemade soup every day. I was aware of this place because I had worked there in the past. I washed homeless men’s clothing. There is also l’Accueil Bonneau, which offers a meal in the morning. The food is excellent and the staff is very welcoming.
Like a five-star hotel
I managed to get a bed for a few days at the Old Brewery Mission, in the Patricia McKenzie Pavilion and also at the Maison Jacqueline, a shelter that is part of an organization called La Rue des Femmes [Womens’ Street]. It’s like a five-star hotel. They welcome us with so much love and treat us with a lot of empathy. But you can only stay for three days and you have to wait another three days before coming back. If you’re lucky, you can get a bed – but it’s difficult.
On a more positive note, I met a lot of good people during my journey. One of them was Steve, who put nail polish on my toenails in a park on a beautiful day. He found Burberry sunglasses and gave them to me. Vampire (Sergio) made me laugh so much. Sylvain gave me a beautiful silver chain. The L’Itinéraire vendors supported me too; I felt like I had come home.
Today I live in a room near L’Itinéraire. Damn, I’m so happy! For the moment, everything is fine.
I wrote this article because I want people to know that homelessness can happen to anyone and also to tell people how to get off the street.
Translated from French to English by Michelle Daniel