Poverty, Homelessness and Willpower

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Poverty, Homelessness and Willpower

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
less money.***

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
boundary issues.”

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
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
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
    fire hydrant

  • 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?]


I wanted to put a rider on this post stating "WARNING STRONG LANGUAGE" but I couldn't edit the postSealed


Wow. Just...wow. I don't know what to say. This is powerful stuff.

dwegowy dwegowy's picture

Thank you for this frank post. Even if it is not the case for some, it likely rings true for many. I especially appreciate the sentiment about more people having to be able to find "creative alternatives" to contend with economic effects on their lives; as this continues to be more widely felt, it is those who are accustomed to having little/less who are ahead of the game.

Refuge Refuge's picture

A good illustration that the caste system is alive and well.  The system is set up to keep the "untouchables" well, "untouchable".


Thank you for posting this. I hope that you will have the opportunity to share it with some of the gatekeepers.

I think these kinds of toxic systems exist in many parts of our culture; the institutions we set up to deal with problems create and intensify the very problems they aim solve. I see this in the Cancer Industry, in health care, in psychiatry, to name a few.

To give you a brief example from the Cancer Industry, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation shamelessly panders to the idea of consumer-driven advocacy. Pink ribbons have proliferated to nauseating levels. The CBCF website www.cbcf.org is sickening its level of corporate propaganda. Under the guise of "cancer awareness" cancer charities (which are overwhelmingly set up by pharmaceutical companies) promote the idea that we can fight cancer by consuming certain products. Alarmingly, many of the products they promote actually cause cancer. You can now buy McCain french fries (found to be high in breast cancer causing acrylomides) with the CBCF pink ribbon logo. Really helpful information that would allow people to reduce their risk of developing cancer is glossed over or ignored completely. 

But getting back to poverty and homelessness, I think that while we talk about wanting to eradicate these problems, they serve too important a function in society for the elites to ever allow it to happen. I think the threat of poverty and homelessness serves as a key form of social control to ensure that the elites have an endless supply of good (i.e. fearful and desperate) workers. To allow us to help ourselves would be a very dangerous thing. 


Naci_Sey Naci_Sey's picture

Wow, I can really relate to this.

At an event a couple of years ago, which was almost exclusively attended by academics, I blasted them for what they were doing. The presenters kept talking about They and Them while WE were in the room.

I asked one presenter, whose study involved less than a dozen women on welfare, what were the benefits of her research?

Response: It increases our knowledge.

Throughout the two-day event, I grew evermore livid. I was so angry my whole body was shaking. Didn't think I'd be able to respond coherently, so I sat on my hands and just fumed. But later, near the end of the two-day event, I couldn't hold it in anymore and it was arranged for me to speak to the group. Spoke for about ten minutes, visibly shaking with fury from head to toe.

I blasted them. Said something like:

Do you not realize the HARM you're doing?!?!

Why is the increase of YOUR knowledge so important? Who are YOU, that what you want licenses the exploitation of others? What benefits were gained by the women who were the "subjects" of your studies? (Response: $20, some free food.)

YOU are not the experts. WE are the experts and we are the only ones qualified to determine whether there are problems - as defined by ourselves, not you - and the solutions to any problems we identify.

But no, you don't want to hear about those. You don't want to hear that some "homeless" people aren't, in fact, homeless. Or at least we weren't until your city bulldozers destroyed our communities and our homes.

Well, get this: Not all people labeled BY YOU as 'homeless' want to live surrounded by bricks and mortar.

Carried on in the same vein throughout.

The academics were shocked and glued to their seats. No one moved, not a pin dropped. I saw some people tearing up. Maybe, just maybe, I got through to a few.


Thank you for that post TVParkdale; it was powerful and moving. It articulated a lot of the reasons why I could no longer work as a provincial social worker, within the power structures and clientism that persist.

I encountered the sentiment above quite a lot as a "Green" student and the power dynamics and lack of respect/acknowledgment of alternative ways of living and being was a shock to me (as I thought I was studying at one of the most anti-oppressive faculties in the country). The "we know what these people need better than they do" attitude is pervasive.

This is not to say that most social workers are not extremely dedicated to their jobs or that they do not care.


Maysie Maysie's picture

Bravo, Naci_Sey! *standing ovation*

I wish that was on youtube....



TVParkdale --

I have been thinking about your post for about 25 days.  It is there, all the time in the back of my mind, when it is not jumping forward and bumping other things out of the way, as it frequently does.

These issues, related to 'naming' and 'defining' and how the power to name changes the dynamic of the issue, particularly for those who aren't permitted the power to name...these have been swimming about in my head for more than 25 years.  They are the crux of my social activism and my personal struggles.

 I grew up without poverty and with only a glancing acquaintance with it.  One day I found myself sitting in the homes of people living with poverty and, not much later, I was spending a lot of time with folks who referred to themselves as street people.  I never saw myself as having much power in these relationships, though I do/did recognize that they may have perceived my power differently.  I followed whatever lead was offered me, but on a bigger scale I remain flummoxed as to what I should do to help create the change that is needed:

TVParkdale said:

"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."

How do I interact with social service agencies, grassroots organizations, and other groups related to homelessness and povertyand still honour you and others and what needs to be done? 


Makwa Makwa's picture

Thanks so much TVP.  I have worked over 20 years in various positions in the so-called public services industry, and I think your article is one that should be read by everyone who works in the 'social services' field.  I have undergone many changes in my perception of what the role of social services are in this society over the years, and have had many personal struggles as well, which have transformed my awareness.  I hope you continue to bring this message forward.  Meegwetch.

Refuge Refuge's picture

I have taken some time to think about this posting because it is one close to my heart. 

I worked within the social service system for 5 years and ended up quiting because of this issue.  I was so tired of people who were doing their job not because it actally did any good but because they were able to feel good because they were able to convince themselves they were "helping" people.

There were many people in the system that were burnt out and no measures taken to make sure these people were not in the position to do more harm than good.  And so many times I would see that burnout spread.  Someone would take one to many smokebreaks and instead of someone saying hey - I think they are to stressed to do this job people would say hey they get to take 2 or 3 smoke breaks an hour so should I be able to as well.

People would sit and bitterly complain about the "client" or the client's family and yet there was no ability to change the way things were done so not only was the system set up against helping people but it was actually set up to encourage people to get into the thought process of blame which helps no one.

 There were people in various positions of authority either over the "client" or the people working with the "client" that had various problems of their own and to truely work with people not only does the person who is the "identified patient" need to be addressed but the people who are in the position to do something need to have their needs addressed as well.  They need support, they need to have empowerment they need to have guidelines and boundries themselves.  And some of them truely need to have therapy even more than the "client".

If you strip everything away from the system a lot of the time it comes down to one attitude and one interaction which will destroy everything.  Someone gets involved in the system so that they can be a helper and have power over the person who it is they are "helping".  Because of this attitude the person who is "helping" actually has a vested interest in keeping the "client" in neediness because if that "client" were to become empowered themselves they would no longer be in the position to "help" and to have power over their "client" and would lose their identity so they have a vested interest in keeping the "client" where they are or making them worse.

I have now been out of the system for 5 years and still have people I know that are involved and it makes me shudder.  I am very happy in my life and would like to say that I have gone on to help other people but honestly in every situation where other people percieve me to be helping other people in actuality I am the one that benefits and I feel as if the other person is the one who has helped me become a better person.

Le T Le T's picture

Nice post, especially in light of the McGuinty government's (non)announcement.


Handouts too easy an option by Monte Solberg

"I mean why work when you can sit at home, have babies and collect welfare or overly generous employment insurance year after year? "

I think we've found the problem. According to Monte, poverty is the same the world over. And there is nothing we can or should do about it.



As a former client of the social services system, this post really resonated.  When you find yourself in need of "help" from an agency, be prepared to surrender your right to privacy, your dignity, and whatever shreds of self-esteem you might have managed to retain through whatever experience brought you to a place of need.

I am always astonished by the courage and resiliance of people I've known who continue to be loving, creative and mutually supportive when the"help" they get from support services comes at such a high cost.

Awesome read - thank you!


ABSOLUTELY bang on post by TVParkdale !  Well done!Cool

So many people not only in mainstream media but even the so called advocates in positions to truly influence and hold accountable our governments and cultural power structures seem not to notice how ineffectual they have become in effecting positive change.

It's the old story of "let's help these poor unfortunates" ... because they really cannot help themselves, and we know what's best for them. It's great to feel you are doing some "good" at other people's expense. Nice to have poor people so we can feel less guilty about societal conditions.

Media and governments set us up to say what is newsworthy, tolerable and (to them) acceptable to the 'silent majority' of Canadians.

... I do have one exception. This guy Joe Fiorito who writes personal, from the gut, individual stories of realities in Toronto...in The Toronto Star.

                Power concedes nothing without a Demand

rural - Francesca rural - Francesca's picture

I read this over and over, over the past week or so.  I can't express the insight it has given me.

So many times my board has said we'd get more impact with a personal story, and I tell him there is no way I'll parade one of my clients out into the public.  If they chose to tell their story, that's entirely up to them.

I do tell my story, as it's mine to tell.

My staff laugh at me, as sometimes if I'm grumpy, I'll wish for someone to just piss me off.  And sure enough a client will come in with a story of social services making them dance and it's all illegal and wrong and I get to call them up and blast them.  Makes me feel so much better - most of the clients get a kick out of it too because I keep them in the office with me and make faces while I'm on the phone.

I've also often told a client to say "I was at the United Way and Francesca said..."

Tends to do the trick.

It's not a question of ego, it's more that we provide a lot of services for their clients and they know I have meetings with their bosses and won't think twice of confronting an issue.

There are day though, I feel like I'm being pecked to death by a duck and if one more person has one more need, I'm going to just vapourize into a billion little pieces, because they took the last part of me.

And then I'll have that moment, that magnatizes all my particles and I'm whole again.  And it's all worth it.

I can't save the world today, but maybe, just maybe, I can save one person, just for one day.