Yesterday, there were two protests, one in Victoria and Vancouver. In Victoria two common archetypes collided: old people with money and young people who pretend to have no money.

In one corner: Clara Beatrice "Trixie" Kramer, owner of the Janion Hotel on Store Street. This building has sat vacant for my entire life. Word has it, Kramer was left the building by her husband and for some batty reason, she has held onto it and done nothing with it. Potentially picturesque, this is an example of Victoria in a nutshell. I have had the dubious fortune to listen as realtors purposefully keep spaces vacant like a some prom queen clutching her chasity. The remaining space in town goes for a premium because there is so little of it.

In the other corner, are Victoria's "poor" and "homeless" and "down trodden." (If I could have used more quotes, I would have). Their champion d'jour is Ben Isitt, opportunist and rabble rouser. While he lives in a nice house and subsists off of the academic equivalent of welfare, he pretends to be on their side. Isn't it funny that there aren't any tents on his yard. If he believed in the right to sleep outside, wouldn't he make his grounds open territory? Practice what you preach, Issitt.

Poor is the new black. There must be more than 1000 jobs available right now in Victoria: burger flippers, dish washers, phone reps, clerks. No skills required; all they need is a warm body. In exchange, they will give their staff three times what welfare pays. The problem: jobs take up time. You have to listen to someone. There are rules (e.g. 4:20 on a Wednesday, you can't be stoned). When you don't have a job, you have lots of time to hang with your other jobless friends. Instead, you can hang you face and hope people take pity on you. People like simplicity. The poor guy with a hat in hand is a concise picture. If you dig deeper you may be sadly surprised by what you find.

I have had brushes with destitution. Some have been personal (ie. my cat got food, I didn't); some have been third party. There are some people in need. Here's some snapshots of the other people who dot our streets (the names have been changed to protect the innocent-- or I've forgotten the real names of these weasels):
Joe: He works at a construction site full time. He dresses shabby. When you see him in the soup kitchen line you can admire that he's ready to go to work-- he's got work boots slung over his shoulder. He's in the soup kitchen line so that he can spend his money on clothes and booze.
Jane: She's a homeless covergirl: really, she made the cover of the TC in 1995 when they did a piece on the plight of the homeless. Was she on the streets? Yes, for a few hours every day. With the rest of her time, she was a Camosun student, she had an apartment by herself and she was a caregiver to the elderly and disabled.
Edna: She's this poor moppet with ratty clothes. She would hang out by the bus stop and beg for change. She used the change for coffee and bus fare. In her pocket, she often had a $100 bill. As it turns out, she had a trust fund for $100+K that matured when she was 25. She didn't need that money, she lived with her father: a dean at UVic.
Ashley: She's as close to needy as you'll find on this list. She's a teenager without money. Her Mom found that the girl got in the way of partying. Her Mom has a good job, but she's a lousy mother who put her child into harm's way. A mother like this is the mother of true destitution and in my books, currently, the worst person I know.
Steve: He's a surly little bastard. He lives out his van because he craps on all of his roomates. He can't afford a decent place because too much of his money goes to partying.
Dan and Lisa: they're soon-to-be parents. They have no money. Social Services gave them a voucher for $100 of baby stuff. They went and bought stuff animals, toys, KFed baby jammies and missed the diaper aisle.

The poor people in our world are legion. In parts of the world, people have nowhere at all to sleep, no food, no comfort. But in a place like Victoria, there are fewer real poor people than you think. We need to take the ink out of the water-- even if its one molecule at a time. On the streets you find these people:
Criminals: Those shopping carts cost in excess of $200. When you see someone pushing those filled with belongings, they're pushing a stolen item around. Message to the police: please arrest thieves or excuse me for borrowing $200 worth of DVDs. Why are the police not arresting criminals? Can I couple a crime with a sob story and get a free pass?
Mentally Ill: These people are maybe a danger to others and definitely a danger to themselves. They need to be institutionalized. I don't have the right to drive without a seat belt, why should they have the right to wander around terrorizing others? Where's the money to care for John Q. Unwell? Keep reading.
Addicts: Drug addicts and alcoholics need detox. They need help. Again: where's the money? Patience...
Users: These guys love drugs. They have nothing to do with their days but hang out and get stoned. They hope you think they're addicts so that they can get your pity and your spare change.
Unlucky Homeless: These people have had some real bad luck. The musical chairs of housing gave them a bad turn. The good news: these people are transcient homeless. Statistics show that our poorest pass into periods of homelessness and then back out again. The are not homeless for years at a time. If we help them now, a homeless person could end their turn on this merri-go-round.
Dilletante Derelicts: At night, some of these ones go back to Oak Bay and Broadmead. Their parents have cash; they have cash. They're panhandling out of boredom. Likely, they have more money than you. The remainder of the dilletante derelicts choose to shun easy-to-find jobs, cheap housing and everything else they need to survive. They live on the streets. They are indistinguishable from truly desperate people because it's easy to dress in rags. It's even easier to stop shaving.

If you fine the dilletantes, they will have to pay up or become criminals. When prostitution runs amok, people use "Shame the Johns" campaigns to cast a light on the problem. Think about that aforementioned UVic dean. How would he react if someone held up the newspaper and showed off the rogues gallery and said, "Isn't she your daughter?" When Search & Rescue are scrambled for a frivilous rescue of someone who isn't in jeopardy, they sometimes hand the idiot a bill for the services. I think when the City of Victoria culls out these dilletante derelicts they need to hand them a bill for the policing services. Maybe put a comment field at the bottom of the invoice: "Here's your bill for $1000. It looks like we have 800 homeless people. We actually have your type and 100 people in trouble."
Put the criminals in jail. This isn't a matter of criminalizing poverty, it's a matter of criminalizing lawbreakers. With their numbers off the street the homeless landscape will look a lot more vacant.
That leaves the remainder: the mentally ill, addicts and the remaining homeless. If you get rid of the chaff that leaves those people who we need to help.

tags: homeless poverty "recreationally poor" "dilletante derelict" CB Kramer


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