Un peu de dignité, s.v.p….please, a bit of dignity!

Fondation de la Rue… a la Réussite

Par P.A. Sévigny

Tandis que de milliers d’itinérants continuent à errer de jour en jour dans les rues de la ville, des centaines de citoyens se demandent ce qu’on doit faire pour résoudre ce problème. « Tout ce qu’il faut faire, c’est d’offrir à ces gens un peu de dignité, » dit Serge Fournier. « De là, le reste devient possible. »

While thousands of homeless continue to wander the streets of Montreal and hundreds  wonder what can be done about it, some know what it takes to make the difference between a life well lived as opposed to a dull and desperate existence on the streets of Montreal. “All it takes is a bit of dignity,” said Serge Fournier. “That’s when the rest begins to take care of itself.”

Ayant passé la plus grande partie de sa vie dans la rue, Fournier habite maintenant son propre petit logement.  Tandis qu’il continue de gagner sa vie avec des emplois occasionnels, il espère se trouver une situation régulière comme journalier dans l’industrie de la construction. Mais il est assez réaliste car il sait qu’à son âge, de tels emplois ne se trouvent pas au coin de la rue

« Ceux qui veulent s’en sortir peuvent le faire …et ceux qui peuvent le faire le feront, »  dit son amie Sue McDougall.

When McDougall met film-maker Pierre Anthian, she not only knew what she wanted to do, she also knew she could do it. Anthian is the creator and musical director of the Accueil Bonneau choir, Montreal’s famous itinerant street choir made up of dozens of homeless men who frequented the Accueil Bonneau shelter on a regular basis. As people began to hear them on streets, parks and in the city’s metro stations, the choir began to carve its own niche within the city’s cultural community. Inspired by its success, Anthian began to work on a script for a film about the homeless and how music could make such a difference in their lives. When McDougall read about Anthian’s project in one of the city’s local newspapers, it took all of five minutes to get in touch with him and, after a short 15-minute discussion, she decided to help him make Recyclage. Three years later, the film is almost ready and should be released for distribution early in the new year.

 “Recyclage is about saving what’s precious,” said Anthian. “It’s all about finding treasures in the trash, about finding out what’s valuable before it’s gone forever.”

When the word went around that Anthian was making a film about Montreal’s homeless, McDougall had no trouble finding what help she needed to make the film. Dozens of actors and celebrities in the city’s film and theatre communities offered their time and talent to help make the movie. While McDougall is grateful for all of their contributions, she also mentions how dozens of homeless men and women volunteered their time and efforts and without whom Anthian could never have made his film. She also recalls how her actors would show up day after day for hours at a time after having spent all night in the corner of a fast food restaurant because of the cold. Some would walk several miles to the set as they couldn’t afford a bus ticket.

« Tout le monde voulait voir que ce film soit complété. » dit McDougall.  « Tout les gens impliqués ont donné tout ce qu’ils pouvaient et, en retour, ils sont tous sortis avec plus qu’ils avaient avant d’y participer. »

Serge Fournier agrees with McDougall. “This movie is all about people and their share of common dignity,” he said. He also mentioned how working on Anthian’s film was the best thing that ever happened to him.

But this is more than about a movie. Once Recyclage is finally released, McDougall intends to work up some new projects based upon the model she developed while working with Anthian. Now that former McGill communications professor Brian Morel has joined her organization, she believes Montreal’s professional and business communities will be ready to help the less fortunate once they know there are realistic solutions available to deal with the problem.

With that in mind McDougall and her late husband Jean-Pierre Chartrand set up the Fondation de la Rue a la Réussite. Building on the models of the Old Brewery, Maison du Pére and Bonneau, the Fondation will offer those down on their luck every chance to get back into the workplace. This will include psychological and career counselling. In addition, the Fondation hopes to offer skills retraining as part of a unique multi-faceted program it has developed. It envisions a complete holistic approach to the problems of the homeless from shelter to rehabilitation to job placement. The pre-requisite will be that the people applying really want it.

Morel is already discussing the possibility of producing a documentary television series to explain and describe what life on the streets was really like and what could be done to alleviate the problems.

And the quality of people coming on board is already being noticed. One of the most effective is well-known community activist Brigitte Garceau. Garceau, an attorney at the law firm of Robinson, Sheppard, Shapiro and president of the Westmount Federal Liberal Association, was immediately taken with the project, particularly when Morel demonstrated the Fondation’s multi-disciplinary approach to helping the disadvantaged. Though very familiar with government programs, and with experience in fundraising for the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Garceau feels deeply that private initiatives are critical to tackling the problems of the jobless and the homeless.

Garceau believes that “as much as government can do, it inevitably misses many who fall through the cracks. As much passion as we bring to our political work we need to have an equal devotion to our volunteer and charitable activities. That’s where we can make a visible difference. Touching people one to one. It’s the immediacy that’s so rousing. As engaged citizens we need to keep the balance between public policy and private purpose.”

« Ce n’est pas compliqué, dit Fournier. D’abord on doit faire son possible pour accorder un peu de dignité à ceux qui se trouvent dans la rue, parce que cette vie est dure et vous serez surpris jusqu’à quel point il est facile de s’y retrouver. »