On the roof of Accueil Bonneau, the 140-year-old organization that offers a drop-in day centre and a variety of social services for homeless men in the city, beehives teach itinerant men social and communication skills.
Alvéole, local urban beekeepers and honey producers, have been partnering with Accueil Bonneau for their Miel de Bonneau project since 2014.
With the support of Alvéole, the five men working on the Miel de Bonneau project currently have over 60 hives across the Montreal area, with eight of those hives on the Accueil Bonneau roof.
The social re-integration initiative aims to bring meaning to the daily lives of the men at Accueil Bonneau by teaching them the basics of urban beekeeping.
It is not a primarily financial project, although they do sell the honey at the end of the season and have doubled their earnings in the last year.
It teaches them how to trust. And it creates bonds between them and others — as well as between them and nature.
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”It’s a really nice way for them to get involved with the public,” Genevieve Kieffer Després, communications director of Accueil Bonneau, said.
”It is very concrete. They have to learn about the bees, how to maintain the hives, and how to locate the queen.”
Then the team participates in sales events at the beginning of October each year, explaining to the public what urban beekeeping is and how to go about doing it.
Després said she has seen the results of the project already.
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One man was so shy when he first joined, that at the first sales event he could barely look people in the eye and only wanted to hand out brochures without talking.
But when another man pointed out that he had been doing it very well and that nothing bad had happened, by the next event he changed completely.
”He was the one now going to the people,” Després said.
Another man who had been living in shelters since the age of 18, with undiagnosed mental health issues, was able to get his first apartment after taking part in Accueil Bonneau’s beekeeping initiative.
Després attributes these successes to the trust the project builds in these men.
”It’s out of the ordinary,” Després said.
”They create a bond with the bees. They get very attached. So they do feel like they are contributing.”