Are we proud of where we, as a society, are headed? Just look around you. This is what I see: senior citizens wandering our cities, dazed, lost and confused, without a roof over their heads. They don’t know what hit them. This doesn’t just affect them. This is a clear sign of the decline of our communities. Witnessing this fills me with regret.
By Caroline Leblanc File: Itinerance
Last winter, I met an old gentleman in just such straits. He was walking slowly, tortuously, hunchbacked under the weight of heavy bags. I went up and talked to him. He told me he’d been forced out of his residence of over 15 years. He couldn’t find another place to stay. It really struck me when he said: “Sometimes I can’t even get out of bed in the morning, because I’m sick. My body won’t respond for hours. My only company are the cats that live with me on the street.”
This 84-year-old isn’t the only person living the same nightmare. I cross paths with them every time I’m out on the city streets, heading to and from the Metro.
Clearly, it’s a sign that our health care system has huge cracks in its safety net. Summer or winter, they’re out there, shivering in the winter and sweating in the summer, itinerant against their will.
Given that our entire population is aging, as the statisticians say and our eyes tell us, we’re falling far short of meeting our obligations towards our older citizens. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the provincial Québec Solidaire party, Bill 492 protects elderly renters from being evicted between December 1st and March 31st of the calendar year. That helps improve our seniors’ living conditions – up to a point.
But we must ask our government how our aging population will survive as our society sets them adrift. Having read a 2014 article in Montréal’s Le Devoir newspaper about women forced into homelessness after being discharged from hospital, I wanted to check and see if the Maison Marguerite (a homeless shelter for women) was meeting the demands placed on it. I didn’t expect to hear that they turned away 10 to 15 women each and every day! And that’s just one shelter. Where can they turn? This reality is alarming. And the measures we’ve got in place
at the moment aren’t exactly reassuring.
Quietly, without any public scrutiny, the social service sector has merged, reorganized and rationalized itself into a giant, inhuman machine, detached from those it is designed to serve. Rules and procedures are murky and time-consuming. The long, convoluted checklist that interveners have to complete before making the slightest decision in an emergency situation violates basic human rights. Those most vulnerable are denied the help they need. And that hits seniors hard.
It’s easy to conclude that the issue of homelessness among the elderly doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. In a community rich in knowledge and opportunity, it’s abhorrent to witness the deteriorating conditions suffered by those who devoted their entire lives to building the society that now turns its back on them. Having sweated and slaved a lifetime, they get paid back by not only losing their independence, but also by being uprooted from what little they had left in life. Once upon a time, our more caring community would never have let someone, anyone, waste away like this.
So while our bloated social service institutions restructure themselves into fat-cat, convoluted irrelevance, community groups stretch and strain just to keep afloat.
It’s about time we got back to basics. We have to help each other. Today’s social inequalities are causing our communities to crumble. Here in Québec, the government’s unwillingness to act to correct this awful situation is just plain unacceptable.
We have to show more solidarity than that. If we want our society to reflect our core values, and pass these values on to future generations, the path is clear.
Caroline Leblanc is the founder and director of Solidarité dans la rue.
Having herself lived on the street for several years, she created this organization to raise awareness of the harsh realities faced by homeless people and their pets. She’s working on her doctorate in social work as well as devoting herself to her organization.