L’Itinraire editor pays tribute to vendor who died after years of sleeping rough INSP – INSP

By Jose Panet-Raymond

Last month, on 3 January, a LItinraire vendor died suddenly. Stphane Avard was one of the few LItinraire vendors who was a rough sleeper, spending his nights in the streets of Montral. He wasnt interested in staying in a shelter, fearing the proximity to others, bed bugs, violence, rules he thought too restrictive, and having his belongings stolen from him.

Stphane was a luminous human being. Each one of us, employees and LItinraire vendors alike, had a special bond with him. When Stphane spoke with someone, he made that person feel important. His gaze was straightforward yet tender. Some days, there was a profound sadness in his eyes. Most days, he was exhausted. The street wreaks havoc on a person over time Stphane was only 51 when he died but was already run down by life.

We tried everything to get a roof over Stphanes head, even handing him the keys to a room where he could at least stay warm at night. It was no use. Stphane refused to leave the streets, even though we were there to help him adjust.

I often hear people say that some facing homelessness simply dont want help, preferring sleeping rough or the like. Its partly true. Some people mostly men in Montral dont want to leave the streets. Often, these kinds of comments are a way of shrugging off the problem, like saying that those people have asked for it and are responsible for their predicament. However, before making such snap judgements, its important to understand a rough sleepers perspective.

The vast majority though not all of people facing homelessness suffer from mental illness, including alcoholism and drug abuse. There are still too many people who believe that addiction falls in the category of a personal defect that could be cured if only the addict showed some willpower to beat their problem. But thats not how it works. Addictions are diseases, as recognised by the World Health Organisation, and those who suffer from them are not responsible for their condition.

A person who sleeps outside, under a stairway with a makeshift mattress of flattened cardboard boxes and an old sleeping bag when its 20 below zero and raining, doesnt actually do so by choice, even if they may have an alternative. Mental illness or addiction often prevents that person from going to a shelter or seeking a permanent home.

Everybody loved Stphane. His family came to see us a few times to ask for help to get in contact with him. It was hard on them and heartbreaking to watch.

We are very saddened by Stphanes passing; we suffered a true loss. To his family, his brother and sisters and all of us at LItinraire, to his customers who knew him and appreciated him, our sincerest condolences.

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L'Itinraire editor pays tribute to vendor who died after years of sleeping rough INSP - INSP

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