Squatting no longer Part II

2 12 2009

(cont’ from previous post)

Michael calls the concrete basement a "bunker" and says he feels "like nothing bad can happen" to him when he's in there.

To set up his squat, Pinet fashioned a table and a counter as he tried his best to build some kind of lifestyle where he could find himself “at home, without it being ‘un chez nous’.” His real difficulty was hefting the materials for the table and some chairs up a ladder to the third floor so he could get them into the building.

Most of his friends don’t even know he’s squatting. Pinet prides himself on living clean, showering as often as he can and doing his laundry at the nearby Maison Benoit L’arbre. He put up a sheet of plastic at the end of his bed to keep off the flakes of paint and graffiti while he sleeps. He keeps his bedding rolled up and wrapped in plastic during the day so it doesn’t get damp, because “you just can’t get warm if it’s at all wet,” he says.

Michael is meticulous about wrapping his bedclothes in plastic every day so they don't get moldy from the damp.

When asked what he is most looking forward to about living indoors, Pinet immediately replies, “warmth.” Next on the list is “being able to bring friends home, and ask them if they want to drink, and to be able to give them a drink in a glass.” But most of all, he’s looking forward to security. “When you sleep there, at home, you know you won’t be disturbed by anyone.”

The worst part about squatting, he says, is the insecurity. “It’s never knowing whether someone was going to come and wake you up. Or if someone [would] break in and beat you up. It was safe, but not a real kind of safety.”

He hasn’t been disturbed so far, although he says if he’s found out by the police or the fire department – his only light in the pitch-black basement is an oil lamp, which could be considered a fire hazard – the city fines would be well over $2,000.

For that reason, Pinet doesn’t invite anyone into the basement. He lived alone until just over a month ago when he invited a second homeless man, who has been living on the street for 28 years, to move in with him. A third joined them two weeks later. The three share food and smokes, each providing what they can from bumming or whatever work they can find. They sometimes hold parties in “the bar” on the top floor of the building, where Pinet shows me one of his works of graffiti art – sprayed over generous layers of older graffiti art – and “the best view of the city.”

Top floor of Michael's squat

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