Ask What You Can Do For Your City

Of all people, Gordo's brother, Michael Campbell put our social dilemma into sharp relief. In a recent radio column, he referenced JFK. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country"-- in other words: the government isn't a rich uncle; you have a duty to your fellow man, the people around you and by extension your society and country. Kennedy saw that our gimme culture was breeding well fed, selfish people who wanted to take.
We expect sympathy and civility but we need do that for others. People are driving a mile a minute in a ton of metal and plastic. When you're standing on a wide sidewalk, you expect that a motorist shouldn't take a shortcut over a meaty speed bump (you). That expectation is a network-- it's only as likely to be received as it is to be given.

But instead, we are a consumer culture. The politicians who give us more get elected. Those who say that they will give you more for less, get elected. In the US, it means they elected the Republicans who will squash medical insurance requirements. In Canada, Gordo expected that a 15% discount on our BC taxes would make us buy Campbell band Kool-aid.
The problem is that these rules are breaking down. Cheaper is better: if paying for homeless shelters and drug rehab costs money, not paying for it is better. Conversely, if working for your food and shelter costs money; and working a job takes time, then not working for food and shelter is better. The rich are bad consumers: they earn money-- sucking it out of the economy and holding onto it. The poorer you are, the better a consumer you are-- the more likely you are to spend 100% of your income on key indicators that drive the economy (food, clothing, doodads). It gets to a point where if you're so poor that you're not making ends meet, then going into debt makes you an even better consumer. The interest you pay on debts funnels into investment return for those bad rich consumers who just plunk their money in the bank. Poor people are responsible for the retirement riches of the last generation.
If you are a user-- one who sucks down the products of others-- you are fulfilling our economic model. The problem is that the more-for-less approach is rife through our society. No longer is it about a cheap burger-- we want more for less in our social responsibilities.
To bring this home, Victoria's Mayor's home was vandalized. If you know me or know what I've written about Dean Fortin, you know I'm not a fan of his. I don't think much of him or his track record. This week, a downtown homeless shelter closed to be replaced by a larger and more inclusive shelter just outside of the downtown core-- the new facilities make provisions for homeless families, people with pets and the "common" homeless crowd. The out-of-sight location has rankled the riff-raff. Victoria is a short distance from a number of campgrounds and wild areas (like Goldstream and Mount Doug Park)-- but when the "homeless" (I have to quote that phrase because "homeless" gives people the mistaken impression all of the people do not have a home-- many do have homes and family in the region) sought campgrounds, they popped their tents in downtown Victoria. It's where their friends hang out, so it's where they need to be. When Haitians were displaced and made literally homeless following the quake in January, they took up in tents in deplorable refugee camps-- they didn't say "nah... I'd like a waterfront refugee camp, please-- maybe near a liquor store." Homeless people along the I-5 corridor in the US base themselves at rest stops because it's close to water, electricity and some panhandling; they live out of the campers or their cars. If Victoria's campers were so desperate that they needed to live in tents, they would hunker down where necessities were available and campgrounds were established. In the more-for-less mindset of selfishness, why not use the campground near downtown. If one doesn't exist, find a lawyer to help you make any park into a campground. It makes a lifetime of being in the homeless society that much more bearable.
People are saying that the attack on Dean Fortin and his family's home is "class war" may be true. And, I'm sorry to say: we need to fight and win this class war. We need to commit social genocide. If people are homeless, they are supposed to be homeless for the shortest period of time. They're not supposed to set-up the artifacts of society: a social network, an infrastructure that allows them to stay in a static state. Homeless people depend on the charity of others-- they need civility so that they don't become human speed bumps. But there cannot be a "homeless culture"-- we need to destroy the culture-- depopulate their ranks by making poor people into prosperous people. But prosperity needs to be easier to achieve and people have to reach for it. Instead, vandals are spray painting houses in the night when homeless culture is being threatened by the long commute to the shelter.
Gordon Campbell provincially and Jean Chretien/Paul Martin federally have long abandoned the government's social responsibility to the poor. The situation hasn't improved under Harper and his Conservatives, but they're reaping the benefits of years of Liberal apathy. Affordable housing is a necessity but only shelters for high risk/special needs people and those at imminent risk of being homeless has been funded. By dropping the Federal rental building subsidies, developers have stopped building apartments and started build condos and have done so for a generation. The net effect is people who are on a precarious footing because the inventory of affordable housing-- just plain cheap apartments-- is very low in the Victoria area. If you lose at this musical chairs game of shelter, you're out on the street.
The solution is not your government. The solution is you. I will grant you that people on the street are in a well. It's a Herculean effort to improve, made harder if your support network is intent on maintaining their culture. So let's say that if you're on the street, you need help out of that culture. Either street people are seeking to escape and they need help; or they don't seek escape and are content. If they are content, they don't need any help. They aren't freed of their social responsibilities. I have to obey the law, be civil to others, sort my recycling and not litter. They have that responsibility too. If they abandon that civility in themselves then they should expect none in return.
Theoretically, there are about 700 street people in Victoria. So, does that say that 700 circles of friends and family have said, "nah... I'd rather you live on the street than surf on my couch"? If so, those 700 circles should be ashamed. The most basic units of society are your friends and family. If they are turning their backs on these people, then that's where the failure lies. When David Johnston won his right to sleep outdoors, his mother in the background should have been ashamed that she so completely abandoned her responsibility to both care for her son and instill in him a sense of responsibility. While he may be the pinnacle of the Capitalist mindset-- getting property near Cook St. Village for zero dollars; people like him are lousy, selfish people.

Comments

Sue said…
You misunderstand the biggest reasons behind poverty and homelessness: poor wages, high heating and housing costs (foreign companies selling us back our own fule) and untreated mental illness. Often, families cannot safely deal with their relatives with untreated mental illness (and some of the mentally ill self-medicate with street drugs). Without expert help, families cannot help their mentally ill members. It's too dangerous, way too nerve-wracking and hopelessly expensive. We have voted for governments who refuse to adequately fund mental health treatment, because we want tax cuts. What we don't seem to understand is that only the ones who don't need tax cuts or social services get big tax cuts. The rest of us lose out--and those with mentally ill relatives, most of all.
Sue said…
Oops! Meant to type in fuel--not fule. I should be in bed:*( Too tired.
Steve Ballmer said…
I utterly love this post! Keep up the good work my friend!

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