Squatting no longer Part III

5 12 2009

(continued from previous post: Part II)

Michael Pinet is ready to face the challenge of moving out of his CN tower squat and into a real apartment, so he can get a job and start a new life.

Pinet doesn’t regret spending seven months in this squat. “I regret a lot of things, but I don’t regret being on the street the second time. It made me open my eyes, it made me feel life for the first time. My life was shit, but I decided to make something out of it. It’s coming up good now.”

Pinet says his watershed moment came when he invited a 58-year-old homeless man, who has been on the street for almost 30 years, to move into the CN building with him. He asked himself if he still wanted to be homeless at that age. “Looking at him, I thought, ‘Do I want to be that? Collecting bottles in the street? Squatting when I’m 50?’ I have dreams… I want to be married, have kids around me, train for a job…”

Pinet’s last job was working as an industrial cleaner at a chicken farm, where he met his late girlfriend. He worked there about 10 months, staying on even as he moved into his squat, and only quitting mid-August. He managed to put off going on social assistance until three months ago. Now, he gets a cheque for $588.88 on the first of every month. “I know I can get more than that if I ask for it, because I was living on the street and could [claim to] have depression, but I don’t want to.”

Pinet says he’s interested in becoming a policeman, a social worker, or even a paramedic, as long as it’s a profession that helps others. “You know, even though I never had that encouragement in my life, no one gave me the tap on the back to push me forward and see what I can do… I know I have that in me to give to others. I want to give them that push forward that I never got.”

Looking for a job is hard when you’re homeless, says Pinet. “I tried lots of job service [agencies], but honestly they have a lot of work to improve the services. They just say, ‘get your CV together, ok go look for a job here.’ They leave you to yourself.”
He says they don’t really offer much help to the homeless. “Some say, ‘you need an apartment, you need clothes, you need a shower before you can get a job.”

Now that he’s moving into an actual apartment, with an address that he can put on job application forms, Pinet says he’s been given the leg up he needs. He plans to go back to school in January to finish his secondary education.

“I’m starting to really live now, I’m starting to have a life now.”


The ground-floor, one-bedroom apartment in Verdun where Pinet now lives is small and sparse but cozy. Playing on the TV in the corner is the latest James Bond film. Simon (not his real name), a smiley, obviously open-hearted man who welcomed Pinet into his place, jumps up to shake hands. He is a fortysomething year-old francophone truck driver, more out of work than in.

He met Pinet when the latter’s younger brother introduced them just three days earlier. He says he found him “sympathique” and wanted to give him a hand. Without knowing much about Pinet, Simon offered to let him move in immediately, giving up his own bed and sleeping on the couch in the living room.

The two get along well: seeing them together is like watching a French version of Abbott and Costello. Simon likes to cook – Pinet says he’s good at it– and Pinet does his share by cleaning the place. It seems Simon was a bit lonely and having the younger man around has brightened up his days. “It makes it fun, to have someone to talk to.”

“We both laugh, we both make jokes, we get along great. We are ‘un bon match’,” says the older man, beaming. “Even if the fridge is a little bare,” he laughs.

Simon’s own story shows he understands hardship: he takes pills for mild depression and because he has trouble finding work in the trucking industry, he lives off social assistance. He’s also a recovering crack addict who spent six months in the Maison Bonsecours program one year ago, and has since been clean of his crack addiction.

He says if he has the chance to help someone like Pinet, he’s going to “give him a hand.” He’s clearly got a big heart. “If I had the means, I’d open a home for young people like this to help them get a new start,” he says expansively.

Simon’s face is sober as he looks at photographs of Pinet’s squat, taken just four days earlier. “I couldn’t live in a place like that,” he says. He figures he would have taken “the easy way” and chosen to live in a shelter rather than a squat.

Michael shows his new roomie pictures of his old squat



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: