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For a week now, ATSA has been inviting people to contribute to the #ATSAdormirdehors slide presentation.
#ATSAdormirdehors is a campaign that uses photographs to acknowledge and shine a light on the unacceptable reality of life on the street. Each citizen can post his or her own photos of homeless persons sleeping outdoors via the social-media networks, being sure to adhere to certain ethical guidelines: neither the homeless person appearing in the photograph(s) nor the spot where they are sleeping must be identifiable; the photo(s) must be taken in a respectful manner, which means discreetly, without using flash, and taking care to not disturb the person. Photos can be e-mailed to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or self-published through #ATSAdormirdehors.
The project has raised controversy of which we are at once aware and sorry. It straddles a fine line because snapping a photograph of someone and putting it up on the Internet is a delicate—some would say unconscionable—thing to do, even if the individual is not recognizable. This much is undeniable. However, it is not our intention to show just one or two individuals in this manner, but the multitude of homeless people in a city where too many find themselves living on the streets.
We have listened attentively to the feedback of those around us, and after debate and consideration have decided to move forward with the project. Being open to criticism, we propose certain changes. The ethical guidelines mentioned above remain the same, but we add this further provision: We are now asking those people who wish to send in photos (trust us, not many are venturing!) to obtain the consent of the person in the photo; yet, as a practical matter, and because we cannot and do not want to wake them in their slumber, it is preferable to leave them the note proposed below.
We also propose to the various centres working with this clientele to seize the opportunity to participate themselves in this project in order to denounce their own conditions and the challenges they face on a daily basis.
There is no miracle recipe, as the homeless individual may not read French or English, or may not read at all... In short, if we are sticklers, perhaps this project cannot even exist. Still:
PROPOSED NOTE: Hello. I took a photograph of you as you slept. I took it for an art project. You can find out all about it by seeing Annie Roy or Pierre Allard at FIN NOVEMBRE, an event that will be held from November 21 to 24 at Place Émilie-Gamelin, between 11 a.m. and 11p.m., or e-mail them at email@example.com, and they will explain their art project intended to denounce the conditions faced by street people. At FIN NOVEMBRE, you can get warm meals and clothes, and you will find stimulating music and art and a friendly place where you can meet people. We'll be expecting you!
We find the most provocative aspect of the campaign to be what is driving the taking of these photographs: the fact that the subjects find themselves in an unacceptable situation at the moment the images are snapped, a situation we as citizens should all be in a State of Emergency over so that these people are provided a roof over their head. This is the message we seek to convey.
Nowadays, to quote Jean-Marc Fontan, sociology professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), homelessness is the "end of the line for apathy" —an apathy we wish to denounce. To us, it is hypocrisy of the worst kind to walk by people who are in that state and act as though we don't even see them. This project is a way for us to say "I saw you."
The project's broad dissemination is also an important consideration. It follows in a tradition that ATSA first pioneered 16 years ago and has maintained since, that of producing an event at Place Émilie-Gamelin that blends artistic expression and social solidarity for the homeless, that puts their reality front and centre while bringing concrete assistance. People living in precariousness play a very important role in this event: We provide work to street people during the event, as well as meals, warm clothes, free entertainment and significant grass-roots mobilization of thousands of Montrealers who thereby show their deep-seated wish to see the social exclusion of the homeless come to an end.
We fully understand the unease some have expressed with our project—we wanted to acknowledge it and not minimize it—but we believe the real unease is in leaving these people like "human wrecks" on our streets. To show their situation is a way of not hiding our head in the sand. From ATSA's perspective, 16 years of effort have shown us just how difficult it is to focus attention on the unacceptable lot of street people. Social media can be a platform to keep the topic top-of-mind beyond the community instances already well acquainted with the phenomenon.
All of this is indeed quite shocking! We hope this stirs up compassion and, in turn, greater solidarity, our ultimate goal.