CKUT kicked off its 11th annual Homelessness Marathon on Wednesday. Members of the campus community radio station set up a live broadcast in the snow outside the Native Friendship Centre as homeless members of the community geared up to speak on air. The marathon was broadcast live on 35 stations across Canada.
The marathon, which ended at 7 a.m. Thursday, aired 14 hours of non-stop content in order to provide an opportunity for homeless people to share their thoughts, stories, and experiences with other members of the Montreal community. Hosting was shared with 12 other stations across the country. This year, about 75 per cent of the content was produced in Montreal.
A vegetarian community dinner was served inside the Native Friendship Center during the broadcast.
The marathon strives to open a dialogue on the realities of homelessness and poverty.
“So often we completely ignore the existence of homeless people. In this mindset of ignoring people, it makes them feel like they don’t belong to our communities. I think that’s quite clear in peoples’ lives and mainstream society,” Candice Cascanette, CKUT’s homelessness marathon coordinator, told The Daily.
“Media is an awareness-raising tool and it’s important that we make space for these voices we don’t interact with on a day-to-day basis,” she added.
One participant, who chose to remain anonymous said: “I’m here because I think it’s a good idea, it’s a good event. I have an opportunity to share my experiences. I don’t often get the chance to do that, to interact with society.”
The marathon began in 2001 after squatters were evicted from the Préfontaine squats, close to the Lucien-L’Allier metro station in St. Henri. Gretchen King, who was CKUT’s community news coordinator at the time, befriended a member of the street community, which led to her spearheading the homelessness marathon, modeling it after a similar project in the U.S.
About 3.5 million Canadians currently live in poverty, with this number growing every year. In Montreal, the homeless advocacy group le Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM) estimates that there are around 30,000 people living on the streets, yet there are only an average of 720 shelter beds available on any given night. Around 13,000 people have no fixed address in the city.
The government’s role in the state of homelessness in Canada was a prevalent topic in the marathon.
“I feel like the government doesn’t think about us, here on the streets. Or at least, I don’t see any changes. More and more of my friends live on the streets here,” a person who lives on the street told The Daily.
However, Cascanette said that the marathon does not have any direct goals to affect government policies.
“As far as demanding political action, we aren’t an advocacy group, we don’t have demands we’re promoting. But we are raising awareness and talking about how homelessness is a multifaceted issue that needs a political response as well as a societal transformation,” she said.