Written by: Sonia Larbi-Aissa
Edited by: Dani Lau
Outside almost every STM station stands a green-vested individual holding a stack of newspapers for sale. The French-language publication is written and sold by “les itinérants,” or the itinerants, as a means of livelihood generation and social reintegration. Created in 1992 by a group of homeless individuals and their psychosocial support workers, L’Itinéraire was first distributed freely in shelters and rehabilitation centers, attempting to bring Montreal’s most vulnerable population out of isolation by publishing news stories most topical to them. Based on the New York street newspaper The Street News, L’Itinéraire would later be sold to “les camelots,” or hawkers, at fifty cents for every dollar it would be purchased by the general population. The first edition was printed for free by La Presse and was an instant hit with the artistic and political communities in Montreal. By 2006, the publication was disseminated bimonthly and in full color.
Spotlight on sustainability
End Poverty Now would like to feature L’Itinéraire for its sustainable poverty-alleviation presence in Montreal. Over twenty years later, the organization has grown to be much more than just a publication sold on the street. Housing a low-cost café, a journalism school in its own right, and a video production studio, L’Itinéraire is a powerful poverty-alleviating force in the community. It targets not only the economic aspect of poverty and homelessness, but also the social and psychological components often ignored or underserved in other initiatives. The organization makes a point of providing a structure of support for each and every camelot from the moment they start. A system of microcredit is available to those who cannot initially afford the ten dollars up front to buy ten magazines. After making an initial profit, social workers step in to monitor its use, especially in the first month of employment. “Most of the homeless who come to L’Itinéraire have a problem with addiction,” says founder and former director Serge Lareault, “We tolerate their addiction for about a month to give them time to latch on to working with us. Then the social workers take them by the hand to help them break their addiction and seek therapy,” he adds.
A new start
The most unique aspect of L’Itinéraire is its inclusion and encouragement of first-person perspectives of poverty. Any camelot seeking the extra challenge can write an article for publication after learning the ropes from experienced journalists on staff. This fosters greater self-confidence and social integration, as both clients and the homeless community can open the paper to stories previously excluded from traditional journalism. It also teaches a certain marketable skill they would otherwise not likely be able to acquire, which aids them in finding work later. “About 50 per cent of the homeless who seek our help stay with us from about one to three years before moving on to other things. About 30 per cent stay for three years and longer and about 20 per cent drop in and out. A handful never leave because this is the furthest they can go,” says Lareault.
Emergency relief funds and one-off food and clothing drives can do a lot for a person in poverty. Teaching them marketable skills and reintegrating them into society can do much more. L’Itinéraire supports those on the fringes of Montreal’s social fabric in a holistic fashion and ultimately gives them the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Next time you come across a green vest, consider picking up the latest edition of L’Itinéraire. Your spare change can translate into incredible change for someone working at a second chance in life.