Over the past couple of weeks, a new McGill volunteer initiative in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood has quickly gained support from community members. The mission of Meals for Milton-Parc is to support individuals without housing in the Milton-Parc community. The Bull & Bear sat down with founder Sophie Hart, a fourth year McGill Arts student studying art history, sociology, and Indigenous studies and resident of the Milton-Parc area.
Hart described being troubled by the way people in the community treat those experiencing homelessness in their neighbourhood. For example, over the summer, the owner of the building at the corner of Milton and Parc erected a fence around the parking lot where many of those in the community congregated. Their only safe space became the street corner and the sidewalk, which in turn led to the death of Kitty Kakkinerk, who was struck by a car at the intersection. Among other incidents, this senseless death angered Hart and other residents of the area.
In the past two weeks, Meals for Milton-Parc has provided thirty-five snacks and more than a dozen meals.
Hart described this as a lightbulb moment, where she thought, ”I have the time…I have the energy, why can’t I just do it?” The “it” that Hart describes is an advocacy group to help the vulnerable population in her community. She created an Instagram account, @mealsformiltonparc, on October 7th. In the few weeks since, the page has gained hundreds of followers. Hart realized immediately that many people were feeling the same way she was but did not have the knowledge or resources to turn their feelings into actions. Combining her experiences working at Native Montreal and the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal with an understanding of effective community organization, Hart has become a resource for the community. From what she’s seen so far, “people are willing to take time out of their day to help one another.” The direct action she has launched, Meals for Milton-Parc, gives them the ability to do so.
The burgeoning initiative amassed the support of 130 volunteers in just one week. Their current focus is delivering meals and snacks to people without houses in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood. In the past two weeks, Meals for Milton-Parc has provided thirty-five snacks and more than a dozen meals. They have another sixteen meals planned for the coming weeks. Some volunteers will be going with Hart to hand-deliver the meals, some will be cooking from home, and others will be tasked with collecting donations. To maximize their efficiency, Hart is holding a mandatory volunteer training that focuses on community organization practices while also educating her volunteers on how colonialism and Indigenous Peoples’ lived experiences have influenced the reality of homelessness in Montreal.
Just because we are focused on ensuring our own safety, that doesn’t mean that other people’s safety can be ignored.
Hart went on to emphasize the importance of recognizing that a lot of the people experiencing homelessness in Milton-Parc are Indigenous. She told The Bull & Bear, “it’s unfair to not recognize that, because it does definitely affect the way they are treated and perceived.” Homeless Hub outlines the various definitions of homelessness that affect Indigenous Peoples, some of which include historic displacement from pre-colonial lands, contemporary geographic separation from their community and land, spiritual disconnection, and a lack of access to stable housing or accommodation. This is why Hart has ensured that she includes the voices of those she is helping in conversations about what they need and want. For example, she reports that there is a strong desire for traditional Indigenous food in the area. This past week, Hart was able to honour this with Three Sisters Soup and bannock. For Hart, this is a step in providing nourishment to those in need while still respecting those they are helping.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the homelessness rate in Montreal has doubled. The number of people who are living on the street has risen exponentially, primarily due to reduced capacity in shelters. Hart stressed that we must, now more than ever, embrace our common humanity and support our community. “As a community, we should be asking for better for our community members who are living on the streets,” said Hart. Just because we are focused on ensuring our own safety, that doesn’t mean that other people’s safety can be ignored.
Hart hopes for this initiative to humanize the people to whom they are distributing food.
Last weekend, Fairmount Bagel donated bagels to the movement. While Hart was distributing them, someone declined the bagel but instead asked for a hug. She highlighted that because of the pandemic, people are afraid of being near or touching other people more than ever. However, that fear is especially projected on those experiencing homelessness. Hart hopes for this initiative to humanize the people to whom they are distributing food.
Hart’s goal is that the Instagram account, as well as the initiative in general, will educate McGill students about issues affecting Indigenous Peoples today. Another one of her goals is to collaborate with, support, and learn from the other existing initiatives in the community like Open Door Montreal and Solidarité Milton-Parc.
Recent discussions surrounding Indigenous rights reminds us that we must recognize power and privilege where it exists, and it reminds non-Indigenous students to work to become better allies. For ways to support Mi’kmaq treaty rights and support Mi’kmaq livelihood fisheries, feel free to peruse this document. For more general resources on Indigenous Peoples’ experiences and the aftershocks of colonialism, take a moment to read this document as well as Sandra Inutiq’s letter “Dear Qallunaat (white people)”, and consider browsing through this list of additional resources.
With winter fast approaching, distributing meals and collecting items that community members need will become even more important. This week, Meals for Milton-Parc is holding a Winter clothing drive. If you’re looking for other ways to get involved, they also accept monetary donations by e-transfer (email@example.com), non-perishable goods, and fresh fruit for snacks. Hart is also open to direct messages on Instagram with any and all ideas, suggestions, and projects under the Meals for Milton-Parc name.