It was Mathilde-Hasnae * who introduced me to Daniel during my meeting with her, on a late Monday afternoon at l’Accorderie de Montréal-Nord. While I was talking with Mathilde, Daniel was reading some documents near us at the long table in the room that serves both as a meeting and dining room. As he did not seem completely indifferent to our conversation, he inevitably joined it. So when the time came to take some photos, I suggested that he join us in the collective garden of the Ilôt Pelletier.
One thing leading to another, our conversation continued after the departure of Mathilde and ended at nightfall, at the entrance of a building where he lives in this residential complex developed by the Société d’habitation populaire de l’est de Montréal (SHAPEM). This housing project is located in a Montreal-North sector that has evolved positively in recent years, after having long been disturbed by the presence of criminal gangs.
Daniel grew up in the area. His parents settled around there at a time when there were still fields a few blocks from their home.
He worked 31 years as an operator of digital machines in a metal products factory in the eastern part of the borough. However, he lost his job three years ago, following a severe depression. Given his years of service, he received a modest severance grant. For this reason, when he was admitted as a single tenant, he had to pay the maximum rent for a 1 ½ room apartment. For months, he stayed between its walls, seeing virtually no one but the doctor and the social worker from the CLSC.
It was largely the insistence of this lady that led him to get acquainted to the people from local grassroots organizations, both to break his isolation and for health reasons. Some groups have their offices on the site of his residential complex; others are active in the neighborhood. He first got to meet the members of Paroles d’excluEs, a movement against poverty and social exclusion, and later those of the Centre d’Action Bénévole (CAB).
Today, he is a member of L’Accorderie, a cooperative that facilitates the exchange of services between individuals. He proudly showed me on the wall of the room some photos taken at a large community dinner held recently at the Calixa-Lavallée high-school. He appears in one of them with other participants. The main course for this meal prepared by the members of L’Accorderie was pasta with vegetarian sauce, which suited all diets, including that of people who eat halal.
As he is past his mid-fifties and since his Employment Insurance benefits have dried out without seeing him find employment, he fears not having the confidence or the morale and health needed to be competitive in the labor market. Now dependent on the meager budget granted by social assistance, he follows with interest the efforts of the Comité de suivi en sécurité alimentaire (CSSA) a comity concerned about food security for the poorest.
One of the services provided by L’Accorderie is a food buying group. Its member’s resources are pooled to obtain food at cheaper prices. Daniel also participated this summer in the collective garden of the Îlot Pelletier, whose crops are shared equally between the buying group and volunteer gardeners. Early in October, the garden was still productive.
Before we parted, he said he hoped to qualify for a subsidized housing program. This would enable him to move into a 3 ½ apartment. He would then have a balcony large enough to accommodate a bicycle. This will, however, require that a lot of paperwork be filled out before he is accepted.