Bonjour, my name is Guy Ricard. I want to know why some people are on the streets, with nowhere to go? And what can be done to solve this problem.
It is a human right that every individual should have a place to sleep, and food to eat, and a place where he can wash. So why when we walk on the streets of our cities do we see misery, and despair?
In our society, we have places we can go when we are in such a situation. First, there is social assistance, then there are soup kitchens, and shelters. These services give the basic needs to individuals who are stranded, and in need. But nowhere can we find someone who will attempt to understand why some people are in those situations. In short, the 'system' is not case sensitive. They do not have the time to look at each case, and give it the proper attention.
I spent 17 years of my life tracking, following, and trying to understand why people end up on the street. And, after all this time, I think that addiction to substances is the major cause of homelessness.
Pinkerton's of Canada (1985)
My First 3 days on the street…
When I arrived in Montréal on August of 1988, I had money in my pockets. I spent it in taverns. When I spent all of my money, the adventure started.
I was a stranger in the city. For three days, I walked around without sleep or food. I was stranded until finally a police officer noticed that I was in trouble, and showed me the way to the shelter.
My story …
Between the years of 1988 and 1998 I lived on the streets, and sometimes in shelters. I have slept on park benches, on cardboard boxes, in back alleys. My lifesaver, while on the street, was the Red Roof St. Michael's Mission. Monday to Friday, in the morning, I would meet with my buddies, over a peanut butter sandwich, and a coffee.
I was a scavenger. A scavenger is in a sort, a predator, less likely to fall prey to hate crime than panhandlers are. Every morning I had my routes, like a trapper, checking his traps.
I also knew how not to draw too much attention to myself. For example, if you have no money in your pockets, you don't enter any kind of commercial building. You can't enter a McDonalds and sit for a while, to rest.
Scavenging at times got real good, I had lots of lucky finds. And my adventure on the streets was wild, like when it came to bugs. At the shelter, we sometimes had problems with lice. That's what we had Qualada for.
And also wild because most of the people I was sharing the accommodation with, at the shelter, knew nothing about reading or writing. And wild because it's mostly dirty. And wild because it's mostly toxic. Take a walk on the wild side.
More than 10 Years Ago Today...
Early in the summer of 1997, I sometimes slept in one of the dorms on the second floor at the Old Brewery Mission. And sometimes I staying with my girlfriend "Ms. E". In the daytime, my main occupation was scavenging on the streets, in alleys, and along trails of Montreal. I had a dog, her name was Tiger. Tiger was a stray dog I caught during the Jazz Festival in 1995. Andre was my dogkeeper 'cause we were not allowed pets at the shelter.
Scoop, he was my sometimes smoking and roaching buddy, and best friend for many years.
I liked walking on the streets of Montreal. I knew most of the panhandlers by face. I knew some of them by their nicknames, such as; Mad Dog, Jim Bo, Drew, Conan, Manny, Batman, MacKiver, and more...
I knew some by name, such as; Chang Ho (a.k.a. Jimmy), and Billy Simms (Billy).
And I also knew and remember Willy (a.k.a. Z-Z-Top), and Richard Caisse (a.k.a. BoBull). And, of course, Pierre Trudel.
Willy was my last street contact - William Murray (a.k.a. Willy or Z-Z-Top)
My last street contact was Fall of 2005. 'Sharky had left the Island'.
The Mission helped me get back in the system, because from 1988-1998 I was missing in action. No income, no address, no I.D.'s. In the early nineties, I was in re-hab at the Mission. But I had the reputation of disapearing. And then on December 31 of 1992, I disapeared for over 4 years. The toughest season I had on the streets was the winter of
1993. Early in the summer of 1993, I was in Bordeaux Jail. Then, later that summer, I had a room at the Salvation Army (at the corner of St. Antoine and Guy). For three years I lived there with my girlfriend "Ms.E".
In 1998 I started to pay rent.
In 1999 I started to work.
In 2000 my health started to deteriorate. I got welfare to pay the rent.
But let's stay in the nineties. In the winter of 1998 (the year of the Ice Storm) I was at the shelter, and come spring time I was at Camp Chapleau. And that's were I got to know Willy. Willy worked many years at Camp. He worked for Fred. I also worked for Fred.
But when Fred retired in 2000, Willy was the last of the old generation at Camp.
Finally, Willy got nailed with having a bottle, on the property, and Willy got kicked out. Willy is now living on the streets of Montreal, doing what he always done best - buming for booze.
The last time I saw Scoop, he had a new a.k.a. His drinking buddies called him "Papa". Around Christmas 2004, I took Scoop to a tavern and treated him the whole evening.
He was now living in the alley behind the pharmacy. Each morning he would go in and get his meds, and shoplift a bottle of rubbing alcohol. In the back alley, he would mix his rubbing alcohol with orange juice, and have a drink.
Early in the winter of 2005, Scoop died of an overdose.
Drugs and alcohol, stuff like that kills.
I always liked to be nice to the cooks. I liked being at Camp so much because we had good food, and a good cook, Steve. I also liked Crystal, Phil and Dwaine at "6400". Ah! And I got along well with the old guys at the Mission - Rudy and Company. But today, I love cooking for myself.
I remember Rambo. Rambo would rather panhandle on Montagne Street than work in the kitchen at the Mission. Rambo is a hard worker when he's working, and he's the cleanest panhandler with the best spot in Montreal. He probably makes over $100 a day, panhandling.
Oh and then there's Jason! Yah, I remember Jason. He was probably one of the only guys who could 'out-walk' me, on the Island of Montreal. I call Jason Robocop.
2000 to 2005 and Today, After 17 Years.
I'm living in a transition house. I have a private room. But I have to share the rest of the accommodations with 40 other guys. We get 3 meals a day and have free washers and dryers. The building has 3 floors, with a television on each floor.
While I was at "6400", my routine was more or less the same as I had while I was 'on the line'. Every morning I made my bed, had breakfast, and then went out to do some walking on the streets of Montreal. I took 100 steps, every minute, that is, 6000 steps an hour. In a mile, I made 2000 steps. I walked at exactly 3 miles an hour. To walk 10 miles, I had to walk 3 hours and 20 mins. On average, I walked 6 to 7 hrs every day, 360 days a year. In 17 years, that's approximately 119,340 miles. Walking.
I had it good at "6400". Today, I can't afford to drink in the tavern any more. I pay the rent, and the rest of the cheque I spend on food. And soap and stuff.
Today, I don't smoke or drink anymore, cause if I did, I'd be back on the street, in no time at all.
Working at Maison Roger Beaulieu (2003)-"6400"
During 17 years I have gained a lot of experience on the street, and in the shelters. And today I wish to use this experience, to find a full-time, permanent job.
In the mid-nineties, I was a bus monitor, serving soup and coffee to the homeless. During those years I was also in the hospital, and in jail. Those are the only real records I have from the years I spent being homeless.
By: Guy Ricard (a.k.a.. Sharky)