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A home on the streets

24/10/2014

This piece has recently been published on The Press Collective.

As I was visiting a friend of mine in Montreal a few weeks ago, we were strolling along one of the city’s many neighbourhoods. It had gotten dark and we were on our way back to her home when we came across the image of a maple syrup can that I wanted to take a picture of.

© aNadventures

© aNadventures

To get closer to it, I slipped through a gate that led to an overgrown garden. There were a few steps leading up to what looked like a church or an old office building right next to the wall with the maple syrup image. My friend called out to me: “Just be careful not to step on any needles on the floor!”

“Haha, yes! This might be a hobo’s home,” I heard myself replying. “I think there’s someone living below those stairs.” I pointed to my left. I could indeed feel a human presence.

In that very moment someone stood up and shouted: “It’s just me!” My heart skipped a beat. I stared into the darkness. There, a few metres away, I spotted the silhouette of a bearded man.

 I felt the urge to leave the place as fast as I could. Yet, something in the man’s voice reassured me. I decided to move on. I asked him whether he was okay with me taking a picture of the can.

“No problem, go ahead,” he encouraged. I felt like I was intruding into his home and I made sure to be quick in taking that picture. As soon as I was done I thanked him and wished him a pleasant evening which he replied to in a cheerful voice.

Homelessness seems to be a common feature of big cities, yet the large number of homeless people I saw in Montreal surprised me. According to the Canadian Homelessness Research Network “at least 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year.”And there are many reasons why people find themselves in such a situation: losing one’s job, extreme poverty, parting with family, mental illness or addiction are some of the most common ones. We never know the stories of those we consciously or unconsciously judge.

It is possible to help the homeless in many ways. Respecting them as individuals is one of them. The friendliness in the man’s voice had struck me. The fact that he lived below those stairs didn’t make him more threatening than any other stranger walking down the street.

I felt ashamed of the hobo comment I had made seconds before the man had drawn attention to himself. But it also occurred to me that he might have been happy with his presence being acknowledged and that someone had talked to him at all.

The way he had patiently stood waiting for me to take the picture reminded me of the behavior of any other home owner. That man had taken up residence next to an old building, below those stairs, somewhere behind the bushes on a street of Montreal. Whatever his situation and circumstances he, too, deserved to be treated with respect.

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