Squatting in Griffintown no longer

29 11 2009

A young homeless man gets a helping hand from a Good Samaritan truck driver – who also happens to be battling a serious drug addiction. This is their story.

In a relatively isolated section of Griffintown, where Murray St. dead ends at the Lachine canal, you can find Michäel Pinet’s ‘backyard’. You aren’t likely, however, to spot the tiny entrance to his squat unless you know to look for a hole of about one meter squared, cut into the backside of an abandoned CN Rail building.

Michäel, just 22 years old, has been living at the edge of the canal since June. Today, Tuesday Nov. 17, is a special day: Michäel is moving out. After seven months living in what he describes as “the bunker”, a heavy concrete building covered in generations of graffiti, the layers so old they’re cracked and peeling off the walls, he’s getting a leg up to help him make a new start in life. Someone has offered to let him move into his Verdun suite. The offer comes just in time: winter is beginning to bear down and the concrete structure keeps out the wind, but not the cold.

On this particular Tuesday afternoon, the canal in his backyard is washed in golden light, but the November sun fails to warm the chilly air. The city seems far away. The quiet is broken only by the sound of a train clacking past on the nearby tracks every twenty minutes.

Michäel says he’ll miss the view of the city from the third floor of the building, and it’s true, Montreal does show off nicely from the terrace. On the south side, just across the canal, is Montreal’s famous Five Roses sign.

This is Michäel’s second time living on Montreal’s city streets. He was just 18 years old when hit the streets for the first time. After living with his father for almost a year – “it was rough,” is all he’ll say about that period – he joined the ranks of the homeless because it was a better option than continuing to live with his dad.

He admits he wasn’t a saintly kid by any stretch of the imagination, saying he gave his mom a rough time when he was growing up, stealing and lying “to get attention.”

“I didn’t get the attention I craved when I did good things,” says Michäel, “but when I did bad things, at least my mom looked at me and there was that interaction. So I kept doing it… the bad behaviour.”

His first homeless experience happened not because of drugs – he stays away from hard drugs – but because he felt he had no other choice. “If I had had another option to being on the street, I would have done it. But sometimes without a job, without any money, without other options, you can’t end up anywhere else,” he says.

This second round of homelessness began when his girlfriend kicked him out of her place last June after her baby miscarried. Tragically, the girl eventually committed suicide because, according to Michäel, she was depressed over losing the baby. He says he had done everything he could to make her happy, “and it still wasn’t enough.”

Determined to find a safe place to stow his belongings during the day, Michäel came across the CN building when visiting a friend. Poking around in the windowless basement – “it was really dirty, but interesting,” he decided, “OK, let’s go, let’s do it, let’s make a room there.”

(to be cont’d…)

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