‘It sounds like a whisper!’

By P.A. Sévigny on January 7, 2010

-Tracey Chapman, “Talkin’ bout a revolution”--1988

Folk artist Tracey Chapman may be right. When people start talking about a revolution, it really does sound like a whisper. 

“People are angry,” said Maison du Partage food bank director Madeleine Daoust.”…really angry. There’s a lot of tension in the air and people are beginning to lose patience ….They know something’s wrong and for once, they’re not to blame.”

La Maison du Partage may be only a short walk down the street from Sister Dianna Lieffers’ food bank in the basement of the St. Gabriel’s parish refectory but for all intents and purposes, it could be on the other side of the planet.

“It’s no longer a question of fighting poverty,” said Daoust. “At this point, it’s all about feeding hungry people.”

‘While they're standing in the welfare lines

Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation’

Talkin’ bout a revolution, 1988

As a hardcore veteran in the fight against poverty and social alienation, Daoust believes we’re losing the war. After spending most of her life working to help the sick, the poor and the desperate in Montreal’s Sud-Ouest, Daoust is beginning to hear the whispers. 

“It’s simple,” she said. “If nothing is done to alleviate the social and economic conditions for the city’s unemployed and the working poor, it won’t be long before the mayor and his people will be facing similar problems as those that sparked the August riots in Montreal North two years ago.”

This year, La Maison is preparing over 400 Christmas baskets for the poor people in Montreal’s Sud-Ouest. As opposed to her regular clientele, Daoust said she is starting to see a lot of middle-aged, middle class people lining up with the others for some food. A lot of them say their problems begin once their money runs out and they still have a couple of weeks to go before they get their first un-employment insurance check For others, it’s the end of the line because they’re waiting for their first welfare check. As a working community activist, Daoust understands the concept of middle class stability which is why she is so worried for the city’s economic future. If the city’s political leadership wants to get serious about dealing with the city’s immediate problems, she suggests they begin by taking a look at what’s happening on the streets before speaking to the city’s assorted real estate developers. Housing, as ever, is the priority because the high cost of shelter affects everything else. If the government can manage to keep its interest rates in check, Daoust doesn’t believe there will be much change to the situation but if there’s any kind of serious rise in interest rates, she believes it will be nothing less than a catastrophe, especially if there’s a corresponding price for energy. 

“Lower taxes don’t mean much to poor people who don’t pay taxes,” she said. “Most of these people have jobs but once the bills are paid and the rent is due, there’s nothing left for food and that’s serious when you have a family to feed.”

While the city’s endemic poverty is always an issue, Daoust said people are no longer willing to accept what they consider to be a complacent, compliant and sometimes complicit political leadership.

Poor people are gonna rise up

And get their share

Poor people are gonna rise up 

And take what's theirs

Talking ’bout a revolution, 1988

“As bad as it can be, most people can accept their situation,” she said. “But there’s a limit when people read about Québec’s Caisse de Dépots losing over $40 Billion on bad investments, when Montreal is cited as one of the most corrupt cities in all of North America and Vincent Lacroix can steal over $130 million from people and not go to jail for the rest of his life.”

As if things couldn’t get worse, Daoust also told The Suburban her organization would no longer be supported by Centraide, the city’s major charity.

“We seem to have a bit of a communications problem,” she said. “It seems we’re not doing enough to solve the poverty cycle,” she said.

With nothing but a $50 000 government subsidy to offset her $230 000 operations budget, the food bank’s director said the next year would be a serious challenge for her organization. After the doors opened, people began to line up for their food and Daoust said she would have to go because her volunteers needed some help at the counter.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen but we can’t lose hope,” she said. “It’s a day by day situation but we still try to do our best…because in the end, that’s all we can do.”


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