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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The État d’Urgence Experience

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The free food, clothing and entertainment are certainly highlights of État d’Urgence for many people in need but, for those who sleep on the streets, the greatest gift may be the right to stay the night in Berri Square. The site has long been an assembly place for marginalized people but, after being given park status in 1993, a curfew was imposed between midnight and 6am. A further bylaw in 2006 banned dogs from Berri and Viger Squares, which some interpret as a blatant message that street kids are unwelcome in these public spaces. Many homeless and marginalized people have been pushed to more isolated living conditions, further from the organisations that help them.

But during the 5-day État d’Urgence event, which is in its 11th year, all are welcome to inhabit this public space. There were even a few camping tents pitched on the outskirts of the activity.

“The space should be shared by people of all different socio-economic groups,” says Pierre Allard, one of the event’s organizers. “We don’t want Berri Square to become exclusively a place of distress.” (Also check out our interview with co-organizer, Annie Roy.)

When I dropped by yesterday evening, there were about a hundred people – mostly homeless – braving the drizzle to enjoy some live music. It was nice to see those familiar faces basked in firelight, grooving to the music, swapping cigarettes, and grinning in awe at the fire dancers, rather than shaking paper cups for change.

With the occasional audience member walking in on a performance or being gently ushered off-stage by the event’s volunteers. More than many other festivals around town, I found that État d’Urgence had a fun mix of chaos and respect with a good chance of random interaction (I even made a new facebook friend).

It’s worth dropping by, especially around 8pm each evening for the fire dancers (observing the crowd’s reaction was even better than watching the girls). For night-owls, there is a snack served at 2am. For those not prone to leaving their comfort zone, think of it as a rare chance for an urban camping trip. État d’Urgence is on-going until Sunday – check the schedule for music, theatre, story-telling, and more.

All photos by Tristan Brand, used with permission.



  1. Those “street kids” are homeless because they want to be. Sometimes I talk to them and that’s the impression I get. Don’t you think if they don’t want to work, then they should deal with the consequences? I believe Montreal (and Canada in general) is way too tolerant of parasites.

  2. I’ve volunteered for Pops Dans la Rue for the last 3 years and I also have the impression that many kids are on the street because they want to be. Although the reasons they see the street as the best option for them don’t exactly speak wonders about the experiences and opportunities they have had. There are also a lot of street kids and even more older homeless people who have mental health problems, as well as plenty of addiction…

    In all cases, its not as easy as ‘get a job.’ The homeless do voluntarily deal with the consequences of not working – cold, depression, violence, and sometimes a sense of freedom and community among themselves. But trying to ban them from public spaces or slapping them with costly tickets for minor offences seems unnecessary.

    An organization like Pops which feeds homeless people uses food as a means of outreach so that if and when the kids do chose to get off the street, they know where to go for help (ie: enrolling in adult ed, getting ID, job experience, and a decent set of clothes to wear to an interview…). It’s not a solution, but I think its better than nothing.

  3. “That’s the impression I get.” Exactly! If you say stuff like that you’re just going on your impressions and, really, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I mean, you can’t just go around spouting off your “impressions” when they have no basis in reality. You want them to work? You ready to give them a job? Or what, you propose exterminating them?

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