Homelessness and Willpower
Secrets We Don't Tell Non-Roughers
Ask the poverty-ridden and homeless in
a conventional group what they want and they will tell you exactly
what they think the public wants to hear. We've all been nicely
trained to parrot the party lines.
You'll hear about addictions, mental
illness and system scamming. You'll hear about the need for
“supportive housing”, more shelters and better social work
services. You will hear exactly what you expect to hear. I refuse to
go to any more conventions to hear the same shit that's shoveled to
the tune of no real results. Billions of dollars wasted to say,
“Homelessness is a problem.” With a unionized construction crew,
we could have housed every homeless person in this country on far
Ask those same de-housed people what
they want behind closed doors, without any co-ordinator class, social
workers or political influence peddlers and listen to the difference.
The story is very, very different.
Behind closed doors, with our own, we
hear about how the system is so broken it leads to chronic
frustration, clinical depression, increased emotional
crisis', feelings of complete inadequacy and mental breakdowns. You'll
hear how some clients have to have 2-10 workers/lawyers/doctors just
to negotiate the paperwork of Ontario Works, ODSP, medical care and
housing. You'll hear the self-hating guilt about having to accept
handouts, leftovers and government support from people that could
support themselves on token jobs if they didn't have to pay huge rent
or stay in subsidized housing or because we need to obtain the
necessary drug/dental/health benefits of government hand-outs that we
can't get unless we succumb to OW/ODSP.
You'll see the tears over homes we've
had and loved that weren't “acceptable” to the outside world.
“They took our freedom. They destroyed our community,” are
statements I hear frequently.
Squats, camps near train tracks, under
the bridges, street crews.
Our dreams of something better—shattered.
People we've loved, people who helped us survive that we must turn
away from our doors on a freezing winter's night because “housing”
doesn't allow us to have overnight guests that stay too long or make
too much noise. Of how many of us have been evicted because we've let
the very people who insured our survival crash on the floor. Oh yes,
it's pleasant to be warm, the toilet flushes and there's a sense of
gratitude corrupted with survivor guilt because for everyone who is
housed, we leave dozens behind, abandoned. We go to their funerals
to mourn and feel more shame for being alive. We don't talk about
that to “outsiders”.
Behind closed doors, we talk about the
isolation. About knowing that if one of us died today, our body
might not be found for weeks.. If we are ill, no one will bring a
street nurse from the clinic, warm a can of soup or call the
ambulance. These aren't counted as “homeless deaths”. Yet, no
street crew would not scream for assistance should they see a member
so ill s/he cannot function. The streets are a stern taskmaster. Yet
the reality of poverty housing is that death happens frequently
because “the worker wasn't available” or “the neighbours didn't
notice anything until it started to smell.” Then the closest social
service agency will throw some sort of memorial that has little to do
with anything we might have actually wanted or believed.
Behind my brown door you'll hear about
the stunning invasions of privacy by social services, housing
workers, case managers, supervisors, means-testers—none qualified
to do intensive therapy yet digging into the painful pasts of those
they claim to serve. Tearing apart the pieces without the skill of
putting such a complex puzzle of a disrupted life back together.
There's the $20 research studies that
carry on endlessly around this city. Go to a conference, or research
study get the $20-40 for your input, let someone shred your shame
apart and analyze your personal tragedy then send you home with the
honorarium for saying what you know they wanted to hear. Tell them
all about your destruction, recall it, flashback by flashback and
spend days swirling helplessly in traumatic memories with no supports. You're just
another research number. The twenty dollars can buy a bottle, or
maybe a chicken dinner and chips to comfort you so you can pick your
pieces up again. Maybe an old street crew friend will be around to
share your woes but it certainly won't be the paid worker who spends
hours stitching up the emotional razor slashes.
The poor live with a chronic invasion
of privacy, the likes of which no middle/upper class person would
tolerate for an instant. Their life stories are passed from worker to
worker, team to team, medical practitioners, psychiatrists, housing
workers, social workers, bureaucrats, pharmacists, drop-in staffs,
government officials all in the name of “help”.
Sign the dozens of consent forms, please, right here, at the "X". Just in case, of
course, that someone scams a nickel's worth of taxpayer's money, that
although they might really need it, they are not legally entitled to have
it. Then the “help” that has stomped on every shred of dignity
that a poor person might possess complain that, “these clients have
Of course we have no “boundaries”
left. We bleed publicly to receive our pittances so often we can't
help but hate those we perceive, as ever-present paid-love,
inconsistently abusive foster parents. We aren't allowed to tell
them, “Fuck off. I don't want to talk about it.” or, “Fuck off.
You know fuck all about housing the poor, my history, what I wanted
for my life, or anything else, you clueless twit.”
Then we blame the poor for a “lack of
Well, what creates “willpower”?
Willpower is belief that since we
experienced effecting change in the past, we are capable of effecting
change in the future.
If you have little experience with
seeing change effected, why would you have any willpower to see
something new through? The poor are up against the most powerful
forces in the world. Most aren't blinded by false hopes that buoy the
middle class. Someone controls their money supply, controls their
children, controls their housing, controls what employment that can
have, controls their healthcare, controls what medications they can
access, controls their food supply, controls where they can live,
controls what they are entitled to receive in education and on and
When the poor come up with a real
solution, they are ruthlessly stomped on by the so-called left and
right as well as the media unless being portrayed as pitiful victims
with “mental health issues”.
Great ideas that the poor promote are
stolen from their brains to be sanitized then utilized by the
“professionals” as newfangled programs while agencies weasel out
more funding by claiming it was a “client led idea”. The same
client who showed up at the meeting because s/he needed the proffered
free meal. No permanent paycheque to be had for the “client” who
came up with the concept, of course. S/he is 'not a qualified
professional'. I stopped counting how many friends I've watched
explode from injustice because some professional collected a
paycheque after said friend instituted a great little inexpensive and
much-needed program as an unpaid volunteer. How much “willpower”
can one have left after that experience?
Housing squats and camps are a case in
point. A “willing” crew gets together, unites and sets up house.
Without legal title they are vulnerable to police raids. Social
services might step in to “save” them, splitting them apart and
isolating each into shelters and housing them far apart to “save
problems”. Any sense of community or political influence they might
hope to gain is shattered. They are given welfare or ODSP and turned
from people with part-time work paying no rent into a begging
citizenry. Some will not stay. They'll find another bridge or crew.
Then that community will be raided as well. Ah yes, ladies and
gentlemen, these are the “hard-to-house-hardcore-homeless”.The
merry-go-round goes on and on...
Social service agencies create
“supportive housing”. The residents have no say in the rules, how
the place is run, the level of service or intrusion into their
personal space. Sometimes there are house meetings that pay lip
service to the idea, but in truth, it's just to shut the clients up,
cut down on the roaches and bedbugs while it keeps the paycheques and
status quo rocking along. If the residents “misbehave” the are
told to “get into [name program] or be evicted.”
The 'regular' neighbours complain about
the subsidized-housed ones, “They have no sense of community. They
don't care about their neighbours.” The same neighbours that sneer
down their noses publicly at the “lazy bums” and complain about
paying taxes for “welfare frauds.” Or perhaps, the neighbours
that care realize there's a problem but are simply ineffective at
knowing what to do about it.
Jack Tafari who was a main founder of
“Dignity Village” once told me, “My biggest challenge in
building Dignity was convincing the de-housed they don't have to stay
in the missionary position.”
Or more crudely put by someone else,
“It's hard to stand up for anything when you're forced on your
knees to suck colonialist cock.”
So, what is the solution?
Stop blindsiding the poor with middle
class social-work agendas. Face reality.
The government is never
going to build enough, or adequate housing for every need. There is
never going to be a 0% unemployment rate in this
country. Those solutions don't
serve the politico-corporate agenda.
When the poor come up with their own
communities or alternative solutions, support them. Show them that
you will back solutions that are not your ideological preference.
Show them that they can effect change if they fight.
Fight to legalize their tent cities and their squats and their right
to house themselves, work at whatever jobs they can for a little pay
or jobs they can invent.
You'd be shocked at the energetic
creativity some can unleash if you cut us loose.
Stop forcing us into the arms of social
services because it assuages your guilt. Understand that every time a
squat, trailer/van stop, or camp is crushed that you destroy our very
hopes and dreams for a brighter, more independent future. Realize
that you are turning your own countrymen into refugees. Fight for our
right to build our own communities even if it looks like a messy
eyesore to you.
Because that's what it's really all
The poor are an eyesore. We
make you feel guilty when we're hanging around under bridges, or at
hobo camps, or panhandling somewhere public and political. Our
visibility is proof that we as a society do NOT have enough housing
and that we don't have all the answers to poverty reduction, or
unemployment, or disability or substance use or mental health
struggles and we will never have perfect solutions.
Considering the economic downturn,
letting people find creative alternatives is going to become even
more imperative soon. We need to believe we
can effect change.
Admit that the people who are
considered “crazy”, or “addicted” might actually know more
about dealing with other people sharing their fate than those who are
profiting from their poverty. Stop blaming the poor for increasing
poverty. When Harris gutted Ontario's social programs and abolished
rent controls and tenant protection laws, 100,000 de-housed people
did not suddenly lose their minds in the following couple of years.
present minimum wage will not cover the cost of rent in Toronto, or
hardly anywhere else, for that matter.
Give us the support to assert our
communal will, for our needs not promoted by the
colonialist missionary agenda.
Support us to learn to WIN what we
want, for ourselves. Wherever that might take us all.
It might even be somewhere better.
[***NOTE: Want to know what it
to build apx 85 cabins in Tent City Toronto that housed 115
About $1,000 in tools.
$0 in reno scraps that we
$200 per wood stove.
$0 in oil barrels.
$30 per propane heater
and $10 per week in propane,
candles and gaslights bought in by private donators.
Second hand beds, bathtubs,
furniture, all scrounged from the garbage of those better off or
donated by supportive visitors.
TDRC brought in some plastic
houses that cost a few thousand each although that was not the
majority of housing stock.
TDRC and the city of Toronto
supplied porta-potties. Cost unknown.
Water was hauled from an open
In short, our actual housing
cost the taxpayers $0 although some residents used their $200 per
month OW “street pay” or ODSP living allowance for tools and
supplies which many also lent around the camp to build more housing.
The Pope Squat was in the process of
being renovated compliments of the construction unions who also
supplied materials. Now the new building owner has received hundreds
of thousands in reno dollars from the City to produce
rent-geared-to-income apartments too small for my dog to live in.
Get the picture?]