Head and Hands

Boosting the odds in Notre Dame de Grâce

By Joel Ceausu

There’s more than one hundred new reasons for optimism in NDG this year, thanks to a vital service offered by Head and Hands.

The organization’s street worker program got back on track last October after a two-year hiatus, victim of Montreal Health Agency budget cuts. So the grassroots outfit dug in and went to its partners and sponsors for help, raising enough cash to bring back its street worker Sara, who hits the pavement each day seeking out the city’s most vulnerable youth.

She’s found them, establishing relationships with 140 individual different clients while distributing 883 clean needles, 25 inhalation kits and 798 condoms in two months.


The numbers matter. This non-judgemental outreach is key, as each clean fix or rubber delivered is an incremental odds booster for someone living with addiction, or engaged in high-risk behaviour. And that benefits us all.

Still don’t get it? How useful is it to recycle a tiny tin can? Proverbial piss in the ocean, n’est-ce pas? But it still matters.

Yes, there are shooting galleries nearby. Yes, homeless youth roam neighbourhoods abutting tonier west-end enclaves. Yes, young men and women engage in dangerous sexual activities a few blocks from your home, making them vulnerable to a plethora of diseases, predators and other circumstances. Getting someone to accept help, break a cycle or live healthily is no easy feat, but someone’s gotta do it, and Head and Hands does it well. You need not devour decades of public health care research to validate street work, to know that real, sustainable change comes only when someone wants it to happen. But its true power lies in outreach to people alienated by other ineffective attempts.

To wit: we rail against sludge-like bureaucracy and feckless indifference in the most mundane public service interactions, from renewing a passport to a simple medical appointment. But if you’re ill, alone, without shelter and been shafted a few times, then navigating that maze is a non-starter with perilous consequences. That’s where Head and Hands comes in, bridging the gap for at-risk youth.

Bang for your buck

“Having your back” takes on a whole new meaning when fighting for your life. And the cost of a single worker and backpack full of flyers and condoms? Talk about a major bang for your buck.

Since October demands for services and emergency food supplies has soared, and head and hands is looking to buttress its program with a second worker to reach more people in high-risk spaces like motels, strip clubs, crack houses, shooting galleries and bars. Check out their gift campaign (www.headandhands.ca) to support it: There’s a need, it’s cheap, a real no-brainer. Real, immediate and local impact. It’s all good.

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