Formerly homeless Montreal man sings for improved treatment of city's most vulnerable
MONTREAL -- Robert Ambroise is fed up.
The Montreal musician knows first hand how difficult life on the streets is, and also knows how poorly the homeless are treated in the city.
The death of his friend Raphael Andre brought into focus just how hard it has been for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he wrote an angry response in song.
"Where's their low-income housing?" Ambroise asks in the song.
Ambroise is fed up with what he sees as a lack of compassion and lack of resources to help the most vulnerable people.
"It's not their choice that they're homeless," he said. "They didn't wake up and say I'm going to be homeless. It just happened to them."
Ambroise's story illustrates his point.
In the early 2000s, he had a nice home with his family and operated a renovation company that won a Consumer's Choice nod.
He was then injured, however, and went through a messy divorce that left him broke and unemployed.
"It was hard so because you can't afford your apartment anymore," he said. "You become homeless. I couldn't find a place to live in Montreal."
Ambroise started sleeping along the shore in Verdun, but when winter came, he had to go to a shelter.
He said it felt like rock-bottom.
"When you get in there after registration, then you have to go take a shower immediately," he said. "That means you're naked in front of about 20 people in these shower stalls."
He was embarrassed but knew he had nowhere else to go.
"That first night there, I couldn't even tolerate it," said Ambroise. "I broke down and I cried. I couldn't believe that this was happening to me. I'm in shock."
While living in shelters, Ambroise met many people who were down-and-out, some who were completely broken.
To stay sane, he took pictures of anything that caught his eye and looked at them every night.
"It cheered me up," he said. "At the same time, I accumulated almost 500 pictures."
One day, a light went off, and he decided to change things.
"I got fed up, and just being around all those people every day, in the shelter, when I got my welfare check I said I'm going out the door," he said. "I'm going to find myself a room and some place to live, and I did exactly that."
For the past five years, he's had a roof over his head but he's far from easy street.
With the help of food banks, he gets by.
Sadly, many do not find a way out.
People like his friend Raphael Andre, whose body was found in a portable toilet because there were no beds at the Open Door Shelter.
"He wouldn't have frozen to death in a porta-potty," said Ambroise. "That's one degrading way to die. I just couldn't imagine his last hours... He was probably your best friend if you were homeless. He would probably give you his own shirt to help you out."
Ambroise has now taken to YouTube imploring the government to make affordable housing possible for everybody.
The people you pass on the street, he said, deserve to live with dignity.