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Quizás, Quizás, Quizás

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps — the refrain of homelessness, marginalization, and futility

(This really should be two or three separate posts. I have the opportunity to work here and now, so I’m going ahead and posting what I’ve written, as is.)

Updates have been slow in coming, I’m aware. A post regarding my budget and how I’ve arrived at the figures I am trying to raise is an important step towards the future. It’s coming. Feels like a boundary I need to cross.

Been a hard couple of days. Not entirely sure why. Loneliness. A deepening sense of futility. If it’s not the rain interfering with my writing and work on the fundraiser, it’s eye strain. If it’s not eye strain, it’s interference from security guards.

The municipality, private security, and Police work in coordination to corral and move the homeless around the city. Why? Any number of reasons. Mainly in service of the public perception of homelessness. More about this subject in a later post.

The security company, Garda, and the city have decided to move me on from the place I’ve been prepping my meals and using the internet. They’ve cut power to the socket I’ve been using. Based on events I’ll not go into here, I have reason to believe it was a cooperative effort. It’s frustrating mainly because it’s meant to frustrate. Ah well. I’ve eaten elsewhere.

It’s important to remember security guards have only the authority provided by property rights. In Canada, that amounts to very little. Not to say they cannot take steps, including unprompted violence. They usually prefer not to.

They will, however, go to lengths to orchestrate events which exploit the vulnerable, manifest anger, and create problems where there were none.

I’ve not yet gone into specifics about my experiences at this location, but it includes a security guard trying to destroy my belongings. If it wasn’t so offensive, it’d be funny. That kind of thing, happening in the dark, unseen, is a commonplace interaction for homeless people.

I’m working, slowly, on a piece about the way private security use low-level, quiet harassment against marginalized people, and the broad application of such tactics in urban environments. We’re persistently targeted.

Orchestrated aggression and harassment events are routinely used as a pretext for violence and the criminalization of a target. Furthermore, you may not be aware that even you, a regular, normal, law-abiding member of the public are on file with the security companies operating the commercial spaces you pass through. Who controls that data? What do they do with it? Yes.

The homeless and marginalized are subjected to a high level of profiling, are frequently interfered with, and routinely provoked. Why? Because we are easy targets.

When — or more honestly, if — we stand up for ourselves, witnesses assume we are mentally ill, or we are in the wrong.

This is a broad and important subject I take a serious interest in. Undecided as to whether I should gamble my credibility on writing more deeply about it though.

Returning to the main point… People have offered advice, unsolicited, about what I ought to post, what kind of stories they’d like to see. The problem there is not that they have input, feedback, or advice to offer. I welcome input. I’ve sought it at every step this past year. I need help. Communicating with people means common ground, shared context and experience. I’ve been homeless so long I have no idea what a normal person’s life is like.

No, it’s not that some people have offered feedback. It’s that some have taken the attitude my homelessness is an entertainment, a reality TV show for them to enjoy. Updates about my life on the street is something they want not as a way to understand, or to help them offer the sort of help I’ve spent thirteen years fighting for. Instead, it’s ‘Survivor: Homeless Edition.’

Is it because I’m not a raving lunatic, writhing around, wearing my own filth? Is it because I’ve demonstrated a base level of rationality? I’m not actually dying in front of your eyes, far as you can tell? Must it always come down to perception and timescale? Either way, I am not shifting blame or pointing fingers.

It’s not an uncommon turn of events, people putting their deep-felt pain out into the public. Mourning, challenges, problems, struggles — human suffering often involves a performance today, and it’s an imperfect and nuanced thing. It’s interactive, to a degree, and, importantly, consensual. Not so with my homelessness, my appeal for your help. Sharing is the deal. I have no way to opt out.

Crowd-sourcing a fundraiser means I’m always thinking about my homelessness in relation to others’ experiences and how they filter my life and identity. It’s uncomfortable. It’s necessary. That doesn’t mean my suffering is entertainment. It feels like people have passed that over.

It’s disheartening. I know no other word for it.

(Lol, maybe I should’ve titled this one, ‘Insecurity and Finger Wagging.’ Nah. I like the title I gave it. Never mind it’s from a romantic ballad. It fits. If you want to hear some great versions of the song, try each from Trini Lopez, Ibrahim Ferrer, or Trío Los Panchos.)

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Abraca-plaza!

Lazy, and obdurate. Masochists. Filthy, greedy, animals. We are feral. Cunning and vile. We simply do not know what’s good for us.

These are the terms City of Toronto applies to the homeless, discreetly.

Watch the news, and you’ll see reports featuring public servants, credible people society relies upon — Firemen, Police, Paramedics, speaking about what they’ve found.

The Mayor, a press conference. One step away from a scolding, an attitude of firm, tough love. During Christmas holiday season you’ll find a note of compassion. Elsewise, it’s ‘beware the menacing homeless.’

City Hall wouldn’t write any of those words into a memo or policy. They’re people. They don’t want to appear unkind. Instead, they push the concept, the facade. It’s the lightly crafted use of a half-formed idea. A tweet, or a look. A photo, an article. Bias and stereotype do the rest.

Words, barely formed, surface in the public mind. The shadow of a thought. You needn’t think too hard on it. They’re dirty. They’re thieving away your hard-earned tax money. Don’t give it another moment, we’ve got this. It’s only common sense. We’ll take care of it. It’s what you’re paying us for.

You’ve seen us on the street, in the park, on TV.

We’re a threat to ourselves. We nest, unwanted and uninvited. We set fires. We are criminals. We invade City property. We make a public space unsightly.

Coming away from a story on homelessness you carry that message with you. The seed of an idea, already rooted. You nurture it every time you see an encampment, an addict, or a panhandler. It’s not your fault. Soon enough, you’ll see another story about a fire, or statistics about overdose deaths.

Once a year, you’ll hear about a serious crime involving a homeless. You’ll see the grainy videos of shit-throwing vagrants, angry beyond proportion over a closed bathroom, or some other nuisance.

What’s it all about?

Why don’t they just go to shelters? Why do they refuse to leave the parks? It’s a shame. The help is there, why don’t they just accept it? Make everybody’s life easier.

Milk or cream? Sugar or sweetener? Coffee or tea? We all make decisions. When last did you refuse something? It was something you didn’t want, probably. Why? Why do people refuse things? Any number of reasons. You don’t simply accept anything offered to you.

Who did you answer to for your refusal? Maybe you’re a bit wild and answered to a judge. No? A bureaucrat. A security guard? Your mom.

More than likely, you only answered to yourself. Your partner, your children, your loved ones, if the decision was contentious.

Did you question yourself? Your right to decide? Your ability to make a decision? Your faith in yourself, or your legitimacy? No, probably not.

Were you made to feel less than a person for saying no? Look at the image below. The title, in particular.

‘Homeless… refusing outreach.’

You already know what I think.

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Strings… Theory?


The tendency people have to ‘pull string,’ on the homeless is widespread. In case you don’t know what I mean by that, here goes.

Any time we encounter an authority figure, they’ll put us in a position of embarrassment. As homeless men and women, we are sometimes tolerated, sometimes welcomed. We stand out. We are targeted. When an authority figure takes action against us — regardless it being police, security, social worker, business owner, anyone else — baiting is often the primary element.

What is that, baiting? Typically, it’s a means to escalate a situation. It’s the manipulation of a verbal interaction. The goal is to create openings for the targeted person to fill. By applying a sort of profiling, security guards, social workers, and police officers will take a stance, pose a question, down-talk, imply and insinuate. In this way, the targeted person is likely to say something outrageous, offensive, or threatening. It’s ‘pulling string,’ in the sense a talking doll has its string pulled. The result is both anticipated and desired. It’s a dehumanizing and humiliating experience, but that’s the tactic.

Ultimately, it’s one person going to a lot of trouble to justify a decision they’ve already made. It’s a psychological ploy. It’s an attempt to mask a rationalization, an already-made decision. It’s about control.

We’re all likely close to someone who’s adopted this behaviour. Co-worker, employer, or relative, it’s a not uncommon social strategy.

In my own family, it’s my mother. She’s always been fond of this tactic. She’ll go to lengths to set out verbal traps and land mines. Woe betide ye who transgress!

People who deploy this tactic have an advantage. They can, effectively, become outraged about anything. Your outrageous comment or non-comment allows them to refuse to do something they already don’t want to do, or do something they have already decided on.

In the bigger picture, it’s an attempt to create an enduring atmosphere of caution, as a sort of emotional manipulation centreing your thoughts and actions on their feelings. In a personal setting, it’s one part blackmail and one part hostage-taking.

In one of my most recent interactions with the municipality, I was threatened with arrest for swearing in front of children, of all things. This example needs some expanding-on.

Not only did I not swear in front of children, ffs, the assertion that I did, and that the police needed be called because of this was an attempt to create anger in me. Why? So that by the time police arrived, the ‘Homeless Ambassadors’ (formally known as ‘Parks Ambassadors’), would appear justified in taking action — action, I would point out, which included calling the police.

They had targeted me for sitting in a public park. Middle of the day, public park, minding my own business and setting out to spend some time reading. No one had complained I was in that park. The escalation of this situation was an event which they had precipitated on their own initiative. They had arrived because they target the homeless, and they targeted me. The result was a notice of trespass, which is a ban from the location. They also, as an added insult, had the police ban me from another park, one I had never been to.

There are no public parks in Toronto where the homeless are welcome. More on that in a different post.