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University Letter

The following is a letter I’ve written to York University. It is long, but I think it’s as long as it needs to be.

While writing this letter over the past few weeks, I was able to finally put into words some of the ideas I’ve been grappling with all summer. This version includes a minimal set of those ideas, but gets to the heart of things, in general terms. Let me know what you think.


To whom it may concern,

I’m writing to enquire about attending York as a mature student. My situation is unusual. I am in my mid-forties, and I am homeless. As of October 2021, I will have been homeless fourteen years.

I’ve no intention of attempting university while I am homeless. My plans to attend university are contingent on a secure return to housing. I’ve been raising funds to that end, though with uneven success. To date, I’ve raised a little more than $1,000. My fundraising goal is based on one year’s cost of living in Toronto, approximately $35,000. That number does not include costs related to schooling.

The program I am interested in is ‘Business and Society.’ My interests and experiences match well with the program’s area of focus. The problem of homelessness is closely linked with current thinking in law and social and economic policy. My homelessness has provided me insight that I want to use to reshape that experience for others.

I am confident that I meet the criteria for a mature student. The worrying questions are all financial. It is unlikely that I will qualify for a loan from OSAP for reasons I describe below. With that as a starting point, my questions are:

  • Is there anyone I might speak with about the unique characteristics of my situation?
  • Where might I find information about financial help connected to York?
  • What financial aid resources might be available to a person in my position?
  • Are there bursaries, grants, or loans I can be made aware of?
  • What supports exist to help mature students polish their academic skills?
  • Can you offer any advice apart from what answers I’ve asked for here?

My post-graduation goals include founding a new non-profit advocacy organization for the homeless. My experiences have taught me a lot about myself, the world, and the dimensions of the problems of poverty, marginalization, and homelessness. Advocacy and policy around homelessness needs an entirely new direction. I want a university education to be a part of my effort in bringing that to life.

Advocacy as I’ve witnessed it these past fourteen years has focused primarily on maintaining the illusion that homelessness is best dealt with at the municipal level, in emergency shelters. This approach to the problem of homelessness is one which accepts a rather low ceiling of possibility for the majority of those who have become homeless. It is, in effect, a policy of abandonment.

Most people never see the reality of homelessness. The reality is an absence of all hope. It is the utter lack of resources. It is persistent anxiety. It is every sort of deprivation, and endless time. It is life without any meaningful future. Homelessness begins with fear and instability, and becomes perpetual, directionless uncertainty. Homelessness is, at root, the destruction of human potential in all who live it.

The existing framework for managing homelessness can be, most generously, described as inadequate. As a result of historical decisions in policy and thinking, the resources made available to homeless people are fundamentally insufficient. This is a problem system-wide.

The working poor, the vulnerable, the homeless and marginalized are more visible than they have been since the Great Depression. Food insecurity, housing instability, stagnant wages, and the absence of disposable income threaten the future of the working public. These problems are the result of trends and behaviours which need addressing.

Focused and divisive propaganda, unaccountable corporate power, the intemperate pursuit of short-term profit-centric goals, and outsized concentration of wealth endanger the future of Western societies. Globally, beyond the realm of governance and economics, our challenges are more serious.

We face, as a species, a number of imminent threats. Long-term consequences of climate change, immediate-term disasters in the natural world, and disruption to global logistics and support systems are only some of the problems we will be coping with for the foreseeable future. These problems are rooted in the same ground. Unaddressed, they will continue to flourish.

The consequences of orthodox thought on business, economics, and working politics are evident on every city street. Homeless men and women, shuttered businesses, impoverished, unhealthy elderly, and the mentally ill are present in every neighbourhood. Addicts, professional charity fundraisers, protesters, used needles, trash, human waste, expensive condominiums and their accompanying ‘poor doors,’ are all commonplace. Yet people wander along the sidewalk chattering and gawping as if the devastation evident, a human devastation, is not connected to the reality they live in.

The need for a more stable social and economic base is clear, and it is urgent. By turning my experiences of the past fourteen years to work on helping shape policy and thought on homelessness and poverty in Canada, I want to disassemble the anti-human policies and norms which exist today. Policy and thought on homelessness is only a small part of a big picture, but it is a vitally important one.

My own homelessness began as the result of a lack of income. Part of that outcome developed after a failed attempt to complete the Computer Programming stream at the private college formerly known as CDI. I had taken part-time shifts at my job with the aim of scraping by for my time at school. It would have been a total of eleven months, if I remember correctly. It was a calculated risk.

My failure came about when I ran afoul of OSAP rules for absence written specifically for private colleges; three absences per semester disqualify a student. After losing my place at school, I went back to work, though with too little income to match my expenses and my debt. I lost my housing in October, 2007. I’ve been homeless ever since.

It took me about two years to unlearn the biases and preconceptions I’d been raised with about desperate poverty and homelessness. After the shock of my own homelessness wore off, I began to understand how deeply those preconceptions are set in the minds of the average Canadian.

There exist a set of rationalizations around healthy adult homeless men. It’s understood that we are homeless either because of defects in character, or that we ought to be able to struggle our way back to normalcy, dollar by dollar, job by job. It’s an attitude rooted in concepts of work ethic which have no basis in the realities of any modern labour or housing market.

It’s taken me more than a decade to learn there is no existing pathway out of homelessness. In that time I’ve seen most of what is available to help the homeless achieve a return to housing. The shelter-centered approach has never produced sustainable results. For all of these reasons, I decided to crowdsource my way back to housing. There is a bitter (and funny) irony at work here. Homelessness is isolating. Crowdsourcing requires a network of contacts. It’s a conundrum.

With the help of a friend I had known in high school, I was able to take my fundraising efforts to my blog, Homeless Unlimited. I encourage you to visit. There are a number of written pieces I’m (mildly) proud of, as well as videos and an archive of posts originally made to Facebook. Of course, my homelessness determines every aspect of my life, including how I spend my time, so there isn’t as much there as I would like and what is there is not of a quality I am entirely satisfied with. Overall, it’s an effort to introduce myself to people, and connect with them as they learn about the real issues of homelessness. In that, I’ve had some success.

It’s been hard work, connecting with strangers. People carry with them a lot of unexamined beliefs about the homeless. They regularly respond to conversations we’ve had, or posts I’ve made about homelessness by telling me, in a tone meant to indicate I’m doing myself a disservice, that I talk as if there is no hope. Truly, there isn’t. People I’ve spoken to seem shocked to learn that.

There’s a subtle and invidious set of beliefs at work, well-tended by the City of Toronto. The broad public perception of the homeless is that we are wrong-headed, if not outright mentally ill. They believe help is available, and that it’s sufficient to lead to housing and a future. The thinking, if conversations I’ve had over the past fourteen years are representative, is that the homeless who sleep on the street simply do not know where their interests lie. To many people, we are criminal, or stubborn, or broken, or irrationally independent. Challenging those beliefs almost always meets strong resistance. That resistance manifests as an attitude that the homeless ought to be happy to be granted any help at all. Worse, we have no right to refuse anything offered to us. These beliefs are the product of cultural messaging and are reinforced by government policy.

A life homeless is not a life. It is grinding misery, a constant, quiet despair. Time-scale shrinks and narrows to the immediate. Hungry, cold, wet–these are the inputs, the problems which need solving. Dealing with those becomes the breadth and depth of achievable goals. After living that way for a couple of years, it is the universe a homeless person exists in.

I have fought anguish and hopelessness to reach this moment in time. Every day homeless is a defeat. Every day homeless is a day without purpose, without hope, and without a future. Every day homeless for a person is another day of quiet, stagnant, decay. The effect of all that loss on wider society can be difficult to see. With every person entering homelessness, worlds of possibility are lost.

My homelessness has given me the experience and the confidence to take on these challenges. There are no magic bullets, and no Utopia. The structures around poverty and homelessness are broken and must be cleared away. What they will be replaced with is unknown. The alternative, more of the same, is not acceptable.

This is very long for a letter of enquiry. Thank you for your time.

Chris Leach

Additional URLs:

Blog:

www.homelessunlimited.com

Instagram:

www.instagram.com/thiswholethingislame


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Another Word for Haiku

[ note: This post is not quite complete. I’ve been working on it for a few weeks now. The opportunity to work inside has made it slightly more accessible, conceptually. In its original form, this was meant to be an experiment in minimalist expression, quite strictly. The final section in this post is not where the piece ends. There’re some additional sections which I may not bother completing. Time cost for me is quite high in every part of my life. As a post, it needs work and polishing, but doesn’t everything…? ]

Homelessness, if it can be described as being about anything, is about resources. The absence, the corruption, waste, and destruction of resources. Failure and degradation, loss, and stagnation. Humanity and society. Collective and individual. Human and financial resources, intangibles, and, especially, time. Mediated in this way, as an existence, this imposes a kind of thought-loop on a person. For the purposes of this post, that loop can be summarized with four phrases:

Here’s How It Looks

Here’s How It Is

Here’s How I’m Handling It

Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter

1.

Modern homelessness can look a lot like a normal person’s life. Technology facilitates all the virtues of today’s global citizen — connectivity, awareness of the culture of celebrity (welcome back Paris!), up-to-date-on-funny-memes, who’s in, who’s out, all the great stuff for a discerning 21st century person.

We have a lot of downtime, the homeless. More accurately, we lead a passive existence. It’s lonely, dull, and goes nowhere. It’s a lifestyle that needs coping with. Some find a biting drug habit useful. Others find a bit of institutionalization a solution to disconnectedness. Some stir the pot, making drama as a way to feel alive. All of us wait to die.

Another way to cope, the approach I’ve taken, is to consume media. TV, movies, music, books, radio, podcasts. I couldn’t begin to account for the cumulative years spent watching, listening to, or reading something. There’ve been a lot of Great Courses lectures, non-fiction audio books, Old Time Radio programs, news, documentaries, and other plainly educational hours spent. I’ve used my time as best I could. (Debatable, but I wanted a little note here.) How much have I retained? Who can say?

More importantly, what is knowledge without power to make use of it? Like in one of those trope-y scenes from a post-apocalyptic story, you know, where the characters come across a big pile of money? Absolutely useless, in context. Some versions of that story feature a character collecting up bundled packets of that useless scrip, failing to acknowledge the fundamental change of circumstance. I could spend all day learning about lab technique. How would I possibly apply that knowledge?

2.

Lucky for me we’re living in a second golden age of narrative entertainment. It’s been very enjoyable. A good television series, film, or audioplay is immersive. It’ll draw you into the emotional reality of its world and take you on a journey. The just-right combination of writing, performance, and narrative experience can be very much like actually participating. It’s life-by-proxy.

Certainly, any experience depends on factors. We can all relate to human stories, even when they exist outside our own experience and knowledge. ‘Ozark,’ is a TV series I’ve really liked. Life in the Ozarks isn’t something I closely relate to, but I’m drawn to the show. It’s story casts light on the miserable knife’s edge of contemporary life at the dirty end of the First World. It’s moody and cinematic. Also, it features an actor I like, Jason Bateman. The rest of the cast is exceptional, though I’ve a particular fondness for Bateman. He featured in my favourite shows as a boy. Like so many other celebrities, he’s got a podcast.

‘Smartless,’ is hosted by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes. It’s worth mentioning as a podcast for many reasons. These guys have absolutely nailed the genre. By genre I’m referring to the ‘Celebrity-Hosted Interviews’ podcast genre. They successfully (and quite consciously) avoid every pitfall and trap of the celebrity podcast. They’re funny, they’re personable. They’re self-deprecating while also being arrogant about what humility they profess. Every story is told either for comic effect, or contextualizes the interview. They deliver their famous guests to the audience in ways that stretch beyond the brand-building you’ll typically find in a celebrity-centric interview piece. Funny and informative, reliably so. I look forward to every new episode. It’s an achievement.

Podcasts have featured prominently in my media diet these past fourteen years. The pandemic has brought the medium to many more people, for better or worse. Uncertainty and a lot of empty hours were the universal experience early in the pandemic. I relied on comedy to get through. I’d spend hours laughing and laughing, cold, hungry, and dehydrated in my pile of cardboard. Publicly accessible resources were scarce. My expenses tripled. People were panicky. No one knew yet just how bad things might get. The street was completely empty before long, and the people who did come around were not coming to make friends.

3.

This tactic, using comedy to get through a hard time, is one I’ve used throughout my homelessness. I’ve not always had a phone, a laptop, or media player. In those times, I’d spend hours on public computers, in the library or the Apple store, locked into place, chasing a laugh. To anyone who did know I was homeless, I’d look a lot like a normal consumer. The difference being by the end of the day I was looking forward only to doing the same again tomorrow. And then again. And again. Not so much has changed. It’s a fundamentally passive mode of life.

My tastes are fairly international. Most countries have produced terrific stories accessible to international audiences. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to burn time up enjoyably watching film and TV. As I’ve developed more and better options for consuming media, the available content has improved in quality and diversity. As I said, I’m lucky. Mostly, I’ve taken a lot of pleasure from decoding British stories, British history and British culture. I am, by now, an unapologetic Britophile.

At various times this past decade and a half, I’ve dedicated myself to learning. I became conversant in Arabic. Got in some tech education, minor advances on my existing knowledge and experience. I took on a few other small projects, had success, but could do nothing with the outcome. Many of my projects focused on history. Some were focused on the function of the modern world, how it came to be, and where’s it’s going. Early in my homelessness I spent a lot of time thinking about my own early life and history.

Growing up in Canada, I was exposed to American history and culture to the exclusion of that of my own country. It remains a problem, and one not much helped by Canada’s colonial history. Half the people who shaped our official history did so as their duty, eventually heading back home across the Atlantic. Sure, the Underground Railroad and all that. But do I know anything, really, about our history? ‘I cannot tell a lie,’ is a phrase deeply embedded in my memory, along with any number of other heroic figures and Americanisms transmitted to my young, saturated brain. Seriously, ‘School House Rock’ has fuck all to do with our system of government, yet still resonates, somehow.

4.

In my neighbourhood, as a young teen, the “chung-chung” of ‘Law and Order,’ was ubiquitous most evenings after mealtime. We’d had a new set of US cable channels added to our standard service and high quality procedurals were definitely the thing. Watching these stories unfold, I learned about some of the broad inner workings of the American system of law. It’s significantly different from ours in Canada, and varies further from the legal system of the UK. Still, many touchstones of American legal drama live in my memory, based on fictional and real stories.

The legal system in Canada is closely linked to homelessness. Not in the sense you’d expect. To be sure, we are more likely than most to have contact with police. That’s not what I mean. Homeless shelters operate very much as minimum security prisons do. Shelter culture is prison culture. There are codes of behaviour which include social norms. There are do’s, don’ts, and red lines, just like prison. And, as with ex-convicts, the homeless face a serious stigma. As with the prisoner experience, we have been subjected to extreme behavioural limitations and controls.

Stigma has power. It has power over some of the most important elements of a person’s life. A life can easily be defined by stigma. For someone like me, homeless, impoverished, and with very few paths forward, we are placed quietly, politely, within a set of boundaries which we’ll never break out of. It’s a stain that doesn’t come out.

Growing up when I did, where I did, I was fairly lucky. Suburban, not too far from woods and a river, a good library and decent playgrounds. School was within walking distance. Most of the kids on my street were within a year or two of my age. We all had parents who could afford to provide bicycles for us, new clothes every season, toboggans, and birthday parties bowling, or at McDonald’s. We had it pretty good. We never questioned any of it.

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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.

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Stadium

Today, Mayor Tory asserts homelessness is not a problem in Toronto. Homeless encampments are a problem, the homeless are a problem, but homelessness is not a problem. Uppity hobo tramp bastards…

What’s this about?

This morning municipal security and police came to an encampment and tore apart people’s shelters and seized their property.

Police and municipal security made an already difficult situation much harder for people who will not cope easily with this affront to their quality of life.

Mayor Tory spoke on the subject of homelessness, and I paraphrase here, in which he refers to encampments as, “dangerous, filthy, and illegal.” They certainly are. Frame that differently. Instead of “encampment,” use “homelessness.” Homelessness is dangerous. Homelessness is filthy. Homelessness is a crime against life, and humanity. But it’s not a problem. Encampments are a problem. Shelter space is a problem.

Mayor Tory continues to draw the frame, telling the public that people in encampments have refused help. They have refused hotel rooms. They’ve shouted at police and security, rejected the offers of ‘outreach’ workers. Rude! Makes sense. Of course. They’re criminals and drug addicts. They set fire to their own filthy little nests. We’re trying to help them, they won’t cooperate.

In a stunning bit of synchronicity, I have a lot to say about the subject of homelessness and have been constructing a website for that purpose. I’ve called it, ‘Homeless Unlimited,’ which as a title is a bit of double-sided, tongue-in-cheek face-slappery.

The writing is a little clumsy and the design is imperfect, though it is a work in progress, so I can tidy it up as I go. (Insert wise quote about adequate vs perfect, etc.) Take a lesson, Mayor Tory.

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Double-Barrelled Sunshine

Finally a warm evening! Tonight marks the first double-digit positive temperature of 2021.

Life during the pandemic has, for me, been spent almost entirely outdoors. Winter has been especially difficult.

Much of the work that needs doing for this blog and the fundraiser it exists to support cannot be done in cold temperatures.

It’s easy to take circumstances for granted. Access to the internet during the interstitial moments of life — waiting for the train, in the car, in bed — has normalized an illusion. Internet access on-demand, in-pocket, and at a whim has created the impression that everyone has equal access. We don’t.

Those moments in-between are a luxury. You’ll send a text, scroll Instagram, set a reminder, order from Amazon, all while the rest of your life is in process.

Those activities represent a rather high standard of living. The deep foundations making that quality of life possible are obscured by familiarity, normality. People who are housed live a standard of life inaccessible to the marginalized, and the homeless.

My efforts at fundraising were derailed by the closures, last Autumn, of libraries and other indoor spaces.

The hours I would spend working are not determined by my industriousness. My own efforts and output are determined by factors outside of my control.

Level of restedness, routine life-maintenance tasks, season, budget, weather, all these variables make decisions for me, daily. Operating hours for businesses and public spaces determines everything about what is possible in my waking hours. Think on that. Imagine your day was set by what time a local shop opened and closed.

Think of it another way: you can’t tidy up your living room because they’ve shut down the coffee shops. You can’t have a shower, use the toilet, or wash your face with hot water before noon because it’s a Thursday.

Where I am at time of writing is the only place that I can use to access the internet, currently, and I can only really be here between the hours of 4 pm and 4 am. In that time I prepare two meals, wash my dishes and utensils, pack and unpack my belongings. In cold weather, that is a set of tasks which results in frostnip. Wet hands in minus zero degree weather, exposed to the wind, every day.

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a̶l̶s̶e̶ ̶a̶r̶t̶s̶ False Starts

Today was the first mild day of the year. The temperature hovered mid-single-digits into the night. Naked legs and convertibles. The lockdown has really shifted perceptions.

We’ve begun in Toronto to re-open, little at a time. Still can’t get my hair cut, but that’s more a nuisance than anything. What I really want to do is focus on this site, fundraising, and putting in the long hours work it takes for me to write effectively. All of the coffee shops I would spend time at are closed permanently, so it’ll be the library much of the time. I expect they’ll fully re-open sometime soon.

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Let’s Have a March

A while back I watched Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times.’ It’s hilarious, touching, and an easy watch.

The film calls attention to so many of the problems exacerbated by capitalism. Almost one hundred years later, things are not any better.

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inSecurity FreshCo

This is a true story about security guards — one who planted items in my belongings in an apparent attempt to have me arrested, and another who shat on the floor of the bathroom in an attempt to…well, I’m not entirely certain what he was trying to accomplish. He sure did like dumping out onto the floor whenever he saw me coming, though.

This is the bathroom at the Sherbourne/Wellesley FreshCo. This location has saved my ass a number of times over the past 10 months or so. Not to say there haven’t been some real problems.

Tonight I had some trouble there, and not for the first time. Not as bad (depending on your point of view) as my experiences there in the early days of the pandemic (plop-plop-plop-plop!), but pretty shitty nonetheless.

I’ve been using the faucet in this bathroom to get fresh water all during the pandemic. Given I eat mainly soup and rice, water is integral to my daily routine. I typically use 4 or 5 litres per day for cooking, etc. Water is heavy, so I don’t like to travel far carrying all that. (Fun fact: 1L of water weighs 1 kg.)

Tonight, I went to access the faucet and was told by a security guard that I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom, that it was out of order. This particular security guard has, while in plainclothes, tried unsuccessfully to provoke me while at this location over the past few weeks. There are some common tactics security guards use when targeting the homeless — banging on the door immediately after engaging the lock, approaching you after having left the bathroom, closely following, exaggerated peering, casually questioning as if a shopper, that sort of thing. Pretty standard stuff. (In case you’re wondering, the substantial cost to retailers as a result of theft is from employees and organized shoplifting rings, not the homeless.)

Tonight he was in uniform. I had done my shopping by the time I went to use the bathroom, so I already had my bread, my soup, and some fruit. When he stopped me at the bathroom door, I left my bags there and walked over to the head cashier to ask her to talk to this guy. I shop there every day, after all. She refused, and spent time explaining to me that there was some definitely valid reason for not allowing me to use the sink. Definitely a valid reason, definitely. After asking her to tell me more about her thinking on this, she got sniffy. Not all that strange, as this woman in particular has a dislike of me that she has never been shy about displaying, but that’s a story for another time. So I return to the bathroom area and pick up my bags, where the security guard is standing by them, and I line up again for a refund. I’ve got to buy some water and I’m not about to buy it here. I’ll go to the No Frills. I’m not about to carry the stuff I bought here all the way to another grocery store, so I’m getting a refund. I return all of the items I bought, except the loaf of bread, which I handled. When I get to the No Frills, I find that there are two cans soup in my bag… The only time I left my bags unattended was when I was chatting to the head cashier. The only time I’ve recently bought that type of soup was tonight, and I returned the two cans that I’d bought. So how did these two cans of soup get into my bag?

The security company this particular guy works for tried to provoke me to violence earlier this week. That’s not unusual for a certain kind of security guard, you know the type. I thought we’d made up, but when you read the following, perhaps you’ll be as puzzled as I am at how bizarre security guards can be.

Early in the pandemic FreshCo. at Sherbourne/Wellesley, like all other grocery stores, posted a security guard at the entrance to control the flow of traffic. This neighbourhood being near the most violent and crime-ridden in the city, they already had a security presence. The pandemic brought a number of new guys. One of them, a stocky, middle-aged man, was the regular guard in the daytime. We’d chat a few minutes, typically, just saying hello and that kind of thing. As a homeless person I try to defuse the tension security guards can experience, especially if they don’t have a lot of experience downtown. It just makes for an easier time for everyone.

So I get into the routine of going to this location and doing my daily shop around the same time every day. It’s usually the same guy, and there’s never a problem. Then, gradually, strange things start happening. I’m going into the toilet and it’s all clogged up. Not a big deal, it happens. Then it happens again. And again. And then there’s filthy water on the floor. Now, I’ve been homeless a long time, so I am very familiar with what an industrial grade toilet can handle. I’m also familiar with how corporate security people like to go about setting up a scenario to crate a pretext. I won’t go into that right now, instead I’ll stick to the tangibles…like the piles of shit on the floor.

The security guard, week after week, he’s been standing outside the store, having people line up, all that pandemic-time stuff. My walk to the grocery store includes a straight-away, where he can see me coming, and I can see him. I find it a little odd when, suddenly, when he sees me coming, he goes into the store. I don’t see hm again until I approach the bathroom and he’s exiting it. Hi! Hey there! I go into the toilet and there’s a pile of shit in front of the bowl — on the floor. Now, you might think that maybe he went in there, but he didn’t make that mess. Fair point, one time. Or twice. Or three times. Or four times. Or any time it happened while he wasn’t there. But no. There was a pile of shit on the floor, repeatedly, when he was working, shortly before I arrived to use the bathroom, and quite often when he was seen to be the last person to have used the bathroom. Never, not even once, was there anything like that when he wasn’t working. Why would someone do this? Apart from wanting to be a dick? I think I have an answer, but I won’t bother writing it down here. Suffice it to say that it didn’t stop me using the faucet. Says a lot about the difference between the security company and the security guards, though. I mean, they would’ve known he was doing that. And someone had to clean it up, didn’t they?