By Geoff Agombar
Local Journalism Initiative
Tuesday, there was increased apprehension in the air at the encampment under Joffre Bridge in Sherbrooke. Media reports suggested clearing the camp was under consideration, and the city had announced a press conference for 3 p.m. Suddenly, tv cameras are circling and camp occupants seem well aware what it means when unconfirmed, sticky decisions are floated in headlines in advance of a press conference announcement.
One 59-year-old camp occupant notices a car idling too long at a distance and walks over to see what is up. He immediately clocks another journalist and makes a comical thumb on nose, waggling fingers gesture of his disapproval, and retreats to the tent circle. A few minutes later, another person emerges and casually walks past before doubling back. “You’re not another journalist, are you?”
Danielle Labrie has been in the camp since the first three tents went up. A local resident had noticed her and a friend overnighting under the bridge and came by with tents because temperatures were forecast to drop off a cliff. In our country, not everyone has known hunger or lost the power to choose, but we all understand the cold.
A month later, Labrie says the camp has grown to about 15 people most nights and a core of up to 25 regulars. Those numbers fluctuate through the days as people come and go, grabbing some of the food or clothes donations before heading to other squats or campsites or shelters or apartments at night.
Labrie takes some enjoyment from getting to triage donations before taking what the camp does not want over to the Partage St-François. She remembers being directed to the PSF charity shop the first time she signed into the Maison Marie-Jeanne woman’s shelter. She spent $70 but did not understand why, if the clothes were donated to support people in her situation. She appreciates the irony in the current reversal of that flow.
Labrie spent last week visiting apartments with her social worker. She could afford about $500-$600 a month and says every apartment they visited was unliveable. Insect infestations, uninsulated with heating not included, what have you. She points back to the tents, “It’s cleaner here than in any of those apartments.”
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