Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Dans la Rue kids once on the street back to school

Marlee, 22, came to Montreal from Halifax two years ago with a friend to take advantage of the city’s artistic opportunities. She is studying animation while attending Emmett Johns School, part of the Dans la Rue organization that helps youth in need.

“I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t find work because I only speak English,” says Marlee, who kept her last name private. She and her friend tried to play music on the streets to collect money, but it wasn’t enough to pay for food and shelter.

Dans la Rue was founded 21 years ago by Father Emmett Johns, known as Pops, to help kids like Marlee. “Pops bought a second-hand van and went around the east end of Montreal stopping at corners, feeding kids in need,” says Dorothy Massimo, the director of Development and Communications at the organization.

“The hot dog van saved my life,” Marlee says.

Over the years, the hot dog van has been a vital part of Dans la Rue. Dave Crockart, the organization’s accountant says: “It’s one of those things that works. It’s simple, it doesn’t require a lot of management, people know the routine.”

The menu has stayed the same. “Hotdogs and veggie dogs with Kool-Aid in the summer and coffee or hot chocolate in the winter,” Crockart says.

The van goes where kids congregate.

The van works on the same principals it did 21 years ago, only it is bigger with better equipment. The van, comparable with a mobile home, has a kitchen, a dining room table, a bed, and benches.

As the organization grew, kids on the street became more aware of it. “Every kid on the streets of Montreal knows about Dans la Rue,” Massimo says.

Marlee says she even heard about Dans la Rue while she was living in Halifax. As Dans la Rue expanded it added a school where kids could get a free education starting from high school.

“It’s not your traditional school,” Massimo says. It adapts to the needs of the kids on the street who want to finish school and get their act together.

The school is on the second floor of the day centre and it is essentially one “great big classroom” with two teachers and 35 students, she explains.

Emmett Johns school is there for mentoring, tutoring, and support, but it also helps kids make the transition to university.

“One girl is studying law at Université de Montréal,” Massimo says. Dans la Rue helped her put together funding and apply for bursaries.

“Dans la Rue and Concordia’s Fine Arts department have a longstanding relationship,” she adds. Marlee, who gets support and tutoring at Emmett Johns School, is taking classes in animation at Concordia in hopes of one day being able to create a cartoon series for television.

Marlee is a regular, meaning she attends all her classes and does her homework. Others at the school miss classes because of issues they may be having, Massimo says.

“The organization is set up to meet the needs of the kids, and not the other way around,” she says, explaining that the kids have the freedom to do as they please. “We won’t give up on them, though.”

Dans la Rue typically helps kids on the street who have “many other issues,” Massimo says, such as drug addiction, prostitution, alcohol addiction, and a history of abuse.

“I was never on the street,” says Marlee, adding that she doesn’t struggle with any of these problems. She lives in an apartment and says she’s “pretty civilized” and that she has a decent relationship with her family. There was a point when Dans la Rue helped her with her basic needs because she struggled financially, but now they’re helping her with her life goals. The organization helps her buy groceries and a bus pass, but other than that, Marlee doesn’t seem so different from anyone else her age.

“Every kid’s story is different,” Massimo says. “Some kids started out in normal homes. You would never know that kid would end up [needing help from] Dans la Rue.” That is why Dans la Rue has the prevention program, to talk to high school students living seemingly average lives, she says.

“We talk to the kids about what it’s like living on the streets and let them know that they don’t have to end up like that,” Massimo says.

“In every group we meet, there are one or two kids from abusive homes who were contemplating leaving. They turn to us and we help them.”

“They genuinely want to help you,” says Marlee about Dans la Rue. “Someday I want to volunteer here because it’s such a wonderful place.”

To donate, phone (514) 526-5222 or visit www.danslarue.org

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