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 Living Lightly

  EnviroCentre Edition - Spring 2016

Scroll down for highlights!
Catherine Mageau-Walker (SustainLowertown Coordinator), Annie Mercier (LCRC Community Developper), Mathieu Fleury and Angela Palma Herriot at a Good Food Market in Lowertown Credit: Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

Catherine Mageau-Walker (SustainLowertown Coordinator), Annie Mercier (LCRC Community Developper), Mathieu Fleury and Angela Palma Herriot at a Good Food Market in Lowertown.
Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

Spare a little change, please?



Being homeless isn't a planned event. There aren't any how-to guides written on it, and there aren't any teachers who will explain how to prepare to be homeless. If you've never experienced homelessness or anything close, then it'll be difficult to understand what it truly means and how it truly feels.

The closest that I ever came to being homeless was when I was 19 years old. I was living at home with my father, mother, and two younger sisters. My father was an abusive alcoholic who took his anger out on my mom. In 2008 I called the police for the first time when he was being violent. In 2010, he lost his job and the financial stress caused him to drink more. July of the same year, my dad announced that he wasn't going to buy food for the family anymore. 

He was starting to get violent one morning, and I called the police to our home for a second time. I decided to take my mother and two sisters out of the home when the officers arrived, and they watched as the four of us packed our things. Then they escorted us out of the home. When we left, we didn't have any place to go and I didn't have a lot of money, but I knew that I didn't have any choice but to leave. 

At first the four of us lived in a motel. Money was tight; I only had a couple hundred dollars saved from previous pay cheques and two student credit cards. Within two weeks I spent everything I had saved up, and I could tell that my situation wasn't going to change. 

I was getting scared and desperate, and started to wonder what the options were. I worried about having to sleep on the streets--it wasn't something I wanted to consider at all. Women's shelters were another option, but the ones we called were too full to take all four of us together. 

   Shadow bars. Source: (free stock photos)


My options dwindled. I worried about having to separate the family. I worried about everyone's safety. All that I wanted was a safe and stable home; the rest I would think about later. Thankfully, a friend heard of our situation and took the four of us into her home. We never had to resort to sleeping on the streets.

Eventually, my family was able to arrange a permanent and low-cost living situation with the help of the City of Ottawa. Homelessness is now a distant reality for my family, but I will never forget how close we came to it.

Now, whenever I pass a homeless person on the street, I understand that they are not there by choice. No one chooses to be vulnerable, afraid, and alone. Life has placed them there and they don't know where to turn. 

Some people are homeless for years and they are forced to learn how to survive on the streets. They learn what is safe to eat, how to keep warm, and how to keep themselves safe. I was lucky enough that I did not have to learn those things. 

It takes a strong person to accept homelessness as their reality, and it takes a strong person to let the condescending glares and remarks of bystanders roll off their backs. I'm not sure if I am, ever was, or ever will be strong enough to endure what many people go through every day of their lives.

I wish that people were more understanding of the homeless. I wish they'd take the time to understand that homelessness isn't about being lazy or jobless. In the summer of 2010, looking for a job was the last thing on my mind. I was preoccupied with food and shelter and keeping my family safe and together. When you're living on the streets your priorities change. 

I want to stress how important it is to change our mindset about homelessness. We should not be harsh to people who cannot help themselves, but instead we should do what we can to understand what they are going through. It is important not to judge someone for the situation that they're in. Instead, we all should work to support organizations and services that fight homelessness.

When we can, we should donate a little time, money, clothing, or food to those who need it the most. If that is too much to ask, then we should have a change of heart and give compassion to people who are struggling. 

I've had a big change of heart and mind since I was nearly homeless--hopefully it won't take that much to see a change in others.


S.P. is a university student and aspiring writer living in Ottawa.



In this issue..

Good Food Markets in Lowertown

Catherine Mageau-Walker, Program Coordinator, Sustain Lowertown

There is an old saying that says we are what we eat. But what happens if you can’t access healthy food?

Angela Palma Herriot (former Lowertown Good Food Market Assistant in the red apron) with volunteer, customer and Lowertown resident Patrick Cassidy at the first indoor GFM in the common room in 160 Charlotte. Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

 Angela Palma Herriot (former Lowertown Good Food Market Assistant in the red apron) with volunteer, customer and Lowertown resident Patrick Cassidy at the first indoor GFM in the common room in 160 Charlotte. Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown



The Good Food Markets hope to alleviate this problem of access. An initiative of the Poverty and Hunger Working Group through the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres (Anti-Poverty Project) and their community partners, Good Food Markets are pop-up non-profit markets that address barriers to food at the neighbourhood level by selling high quality produce and dry goods in communities at great value.

Over the last two years, Lowertown offered eight Good Food Markets in MacDonald Gardens Park with one happening each of the summer months.  The markets offered fresh produce and because of a partnership with the Good Food Pantry, dry goods as well. They were not only a source of nourishment for the body, but also for the community with live music from such local artists as Gabriel Bouchard, Tariq Anwar, Moonfuits and Greggio, as well as face painting and soccer playing for children (or interested adults) and information on community offerings.

Catherine Mageau-Walker, former Lowertown Good Food Market Coordinator, states, “The point of a Good Food Market is not exclusively to provide affordable fresh food to residents, it is also a community strengthening tool – a way to bring community residents together. If you have ever come to a market, you would witness first-hand how this happens: between the chatting amongst the volunteers, the interactions between the market attendees, the collective enjoyment of the music or complaining of the weather. The markets act as a vehicle for creating that community togetherness with the added benefit of providing and assisting people in making healthy food purchases possible.”


Catherine Mageau-Walker (SustainLowertown Coordinator), Annie Mercier (LCRC Community Developper), Mathieu Fleury and Angela Palma Herriot at a Good Food Market in Lowertown. Photo courtesy of SustainLowertown

To ensure these markets continue, MarketMobile, Good Food Market and their passionate supporters are always looking for creative solutions and alternate funding streams to continue offering healthy food to communities that need it.  In the interim, in Lowertown, the Lowertown Community Resource Centre and SustainLowertown, a partner community in EnviroCentre`s Sustain Your Community project, have formed a partnership to bridge the fresh food accessibility (both physical and financial) gap by holding indoor markets. At this time, two markets have been held in the resident’s lounge of an Ottawa Community Housing building,   once again offering affordably priced fresh local food to the seniors living there. And as with other markets, the live music, creating an ambiance of either a Parisian café or a campfire sing-along, has made many of the market attendees smile – or many a volunteer stomp their feet in tune.

With the rising prices of fresh produce, making healthy food accessible and affordable will continue to be a challenge – but through the Good Food Markets we can continue to strive to provide nutritious food at the best possible price, so that everyone can be a true reflection of “we are what we eat”.

PEN Spring 2016 Simple

Want more PEN?

Look for the full print edition at community centres and select retailers throughout the Ottawa area.

The PERC site features highlights from the current edition. PDF versions of the full PEN will be available in the archives after the current edition is off the stands.


The PERC thanks the above organizations for their support.

Thank you to Sustainable Eastern Ontario, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for sponsoring the Winter 2015-2016 edition of the PEN.


Viewpoints expressed should not be taken to represent the opinions of the Ottawa Peace and Environment Resource Centre, the Peace and Environment News, or our supporters. The PEN does not recommend, approve or endorse any of the advertisers, products or services printed in the PEN or referred to on the PERC website. Health-related information printed in the PEN or online is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified and licensed health care provider. The PERC and PEN are not responsible for the content on any external website links.