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INTERVIEW WITH ATWATER LADY: Rita’s Story Uncovered.

Khadija Fatima

Copy Editor


Maryam Hussain Asghar

Staff Writer


Via Rail Fans Canada


“As-salamu alaykum, madame,” resonates through the air at the juncture of Atwater station and Alexis Nihon. There, ensconced in her chair, sits a woman draped in red against the drab backdrop of urban decay. Crutches lie dormant by her side, silent testament to a story untold. She is a fixture here, positioned perfectly to catch the tide of humanity that flows past her daily. To engage or to ignore, to see or to look away — she is a reminder of the stories we choose not to hear, the lives we inadvertently sideline for something always just beyond the next turn.


The Plant, dedicated to bringing to light the stories of diverse and often unheard individuals, captures the story of the "Atwater Lady" through a direct interview. To overcome the language barrier and ensure her story is accurately represented, Google Translate was leveraged, allowing her to comfortably express herself in Italian, her preferred language.



What is your name? How would you like to be addressed? 

Interviewee: Rita. She goes on to repeat her name with an emphasis on the “R” being rolled properly, inviting the interviewers with a smile.


How old are you?

Rita: I am 60 years old. 


What is your story? What caused you to end up in this situation?

Rita: This is how I provide for my kids. The money goes to buying diapers and towels for my children. I also need to pay the doctor for physiotherapy.


How long have you been at Atwater on a regular basis? 

Rita: I have been here for the last six years. She shows six fingers.


Do you have a family that you have to provide for?

Rita: I have seven kids, the youngest being only one year old, and the oldest being eight years old. They don’t go to school.


Is there anyone that can help provide for you and your children?

Rita: Yes. My household consists of my husband, and six more women. In total, there are 18 children. We all live together as rent is expensive, standing at about $1 000 per month. While I’m here, the other women stay with the kids.


Would you like to tell us more about your injury seeing that you use crutches?

Rita: I have arthritis. My knees are swollen, my finger joints hurt, my back hurts, my neck hurts. I need this money to see the physiotherapist. It is difficult to walk upright without my crutches. She lifts her garment to reveal two band-aids on her left leg between which lay a severely inflamed knee. She follows this by holding up her fingers’ bulging knuckles, further showing signs of arthritis.


Why Atwater? Why did you not choose any other metro station?

Rita: Atwater has a lot of pedestrian traffic. She pauses and gestures to the foot traffic entering and exiting Alexis Nihon by its metro entrance, bringing her point home.


What do you think about Quebec's way of handling homeless people?

Rita: Quebec does not help much. The [financial aid] does not cover the costs of living. You know, I can’t even travel back to my country. One plane ticket costs 10,000 euros — not dollars. It costs 4,000 per child which is quite costly.


How can we, Dawson students, further help you?

Rita: Donating a bit if you ever walk by would be very helpful. She asks the interviewers to buy her a pack of pampers in size 5 from Pharmaprix if they wish to help, dismissing the money at that instance. 


***


Rita’s story at Atwater illuminates that encountering individuals begging on the streets is a visible manifestation of the complex and multifaceted issue of homelessness, one that is deeply rooted in systemic failures and societal challenges. These transcend simple narratives of personal failure, highlighting instead the critical intersections of affordable housing shortages, inadequate social support systems, healthcare accessibility, and the unique hurdles faced by immigrants and refugees.


Each person begging on the street has dignity and humanity despite their vulnerable situations. 

This is a tribute to the overlooked tales of the rising homeless population, echoing through the silence of empty Tim Hortons cups and the hurried glances of morning commuters.



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