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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


Categories
News

Trust Me, It’s Free

(…and if there’s a problem, you did agree to the Terms of Service!)

You’ll notice every wi-fi hotspot you use asks you to agree to terms of service. These always include the caveat that the network may allow others to see the traffic you’re sending across it. No one hesitates to accept.

My lifestyle has me using public wi-fi to access the internet, always. I’ve long had an interest in computers, networks, and how they function. Network access is something I’ve done troubleshooting on with regularity. Not so much recently. I mention it by way of establishing a little credibility. At any rate that brings me to the point of this post.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a reliable, well-established way to keep your web browsing secure from outside observers. Back in 2010 or so VPNs were becoming increasingly prevalent as free and subscription services. Wanting to preserve my personal information while using wide-open public networks, I began making use of these services. They were great, initially. It wasn’t long before they became unusable. This followed a pattern.

At first, arriving at my regular wi-fi hotspots, I’d log in, join my VPN service, and it’d work. Everything went smoothly. It’d function perfectly, for a day or so. Soon enough, they’d fail to connect, making the network unusable. Without the VPN, access worked perfectly. Free or paid VPN, it made no difference.

This pattern spread to every public wi-fi spot. From Starbuck’s to Wendy’s, McDonald’s to A&W, before long every ‘free’ wi-fi offered to the public was unusable as soon as a VPN was engaged.

Every company offering publicly available internet was blocking access to the basic tools available to mitigate the very threat they were warning their users of.

The implications are clear enough. While there has yet to be a scandal (fingers crossed!), the business model offering free services to the public in exchange for rights to profit from their data is widespread, commonplace. Companies offering public wi-fi are collecting all network traffic, for profit. Without getting into the far flung regions of this subject, I’d point out what that entails. Your email address. Your banking details. All of your passwords. Your secret, flirty messages to your online fantasy affair. It’s all being collected and sorted, stored and used as data to model your behaviour.

Frighteningly, everything you’re using in the cloud, including any truly private, legally protected information you might access while working from your local coffee shop is also potentially being stored. All information you send and receive across one of these networks is being collected, recorded, collated and sold. Your personality, interests, economic status, sexuality, and private life are becoming the intellectual property of strangers, organizations who will use that information to extract maximum value from you, for the duration of your life.

Modern-day standards have been implemented to protect internet users from the threat of unauthorized traffic monitoring. Providers are side-stepping those standards, illegally accessing, collecting and profiting from your activity while denying you the power of self-protection. In a nearly Kafkaesque turn, any counter argument can be slapped down with reference to the terms of the agreement you entered into. In a world which increasingly demands access to networks as precondition to everyday living, this is a dangerous foundation to build upon.

Many aspects of this are troubling, though it is when looking at projected social futures the current state of affairs seem most ominous. Imagine your value being estimated at birth, the statistically probable limits of your economic value being projected based on generations of data and models — tried, tested, and deployed for profit and harmony in our technological future. ‘Dystopian’ hasn’t enough room in it to carry all of the hell that world would be.


The impetus for my posting this was the recent experience I had at my local library branch. My computer was hacked.

As part of my tech routine I format and reinstall my OS multiple times a year. I recently did just this. More than 24 hours passed between the format and my next sign-on at the library. Completely fresh install.

I’m familiar with the moods of the TPL network, including how often it requires a new sign-on — multiple times per day, no matter what.

When I connected to the library hotspot, it hit the internet, right away. No sign-in page, no terms of service. This was unusual. Based on evidence, I believe my laptop was being compromised, hacked.

After verifying I was indeed on the internet, I went about looking at the volume of traffic to and from my computer. That effort proved unnecessary. Next thing that happened was a segmentation fault in a privileged part of my OS. A segmentation fault is a form of program crash. Hackers will often use a specific sort of attack which results in a segmentation fault. The attack causes the system to execute code the attacker has crafted to gain privileges, breaking security so they can install software allowing them reliable access in future. In terms of seriousness, it’s many levels above monitoring traffic and collecting information.

What I am alleging here is that the administrators managing that network not only collect and sell user data, but, as with my example, have no qualms about installing software to illegally monitor patrons computer-based activity.

If you need help putting this kind of attack into context, I refer you to the Pegasus revelations. Pegasus is a formalized system of mobile phone hacking which has been connected to assassinations and kidnappings enacted around the world targeting journalists, activists, and uncooperative royals. Kidnapped, harassed, killed — phones compromised using commercially available Pegasus technology figure prominently in facilitating surveillance leading to violence and disappearances. Traces of Pegasus have been found on mobile phones all over the planet, indicating the widespread use of monitoring as a norm.

The power to illegally access private communications devices is not limited to those perceived as a threat to authoritarian governments. Identifiable data linked to an individual is key to profits for a broad range of businesses operating today. What purpose the Toronto Public Library would have for infiltrating and monitoring a patron’s laptop is something I couldn’t speculate on. Nor would I point to the close cooperation in harassment, gaslighting, and psychological abuse between GARDA Security (employed here in the library) and the City of Toronto as a possible basis for this specific incident.

Remember, the library is a public service institution. It’s a not-for-profit operation. It’s not a cog in the machine of a multi-national corporation. It’s an institution dedicated to public service. What part of that, I ask you, is represented by hacking the computers and personal data of the public? Next they’ll be finding security cameras hidden in public bathrooms. Uhhmmmm… they wouldn’t, would they?

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Uncategorized

Numbers/Cost of Living

March 2022 NOTE:

This text was written in late 2021, before inflation began to rise. My food costs have, as of March 28, 2022, increased 30%. My income, which as a homeless person is all of $343 monthly, is not sufficient to cope with these costs. Homelessness is a trap. Resources are the path out.

The fundraising goal of $35,000 should be adjusted upwards to match rising costs, yet, and I’d like to emphasize this point — the goal of my fundraiser is to return to living. The specific overall amount is less important than what it buys, namely, security and a future.


(Originally Posted July 28, 2021. Minor edits for clarity, March 28, 2022.)

Note – Presenting these numbers is a bit of a challenge. Starting from nothing is expensive. The minimum cost of my return to housing as I’d like it to be starts with first and last month’s rent.

After moving in, the important factor is stability. I am terrified at the prospect of becoming housed again, only to fall back into homelessness for lack of work and income.

The cost of living numbers I’m using are from July, 2021. I’ll continue to use them for a while seeing the costs in grocery stores continue to edge upwards. Hopefully they’ll stabilize by the end of the year.

Numbers as of July, 2021 – Source: www.numbeo.com

Quick Summary:

$6,834 is my before-tax minimum cost of moving into a 1-bedroom apartment in Toronto.

$34,624 ($6,834 [start-up costs] + $27,790 [10 additional months of expenses] is the approximate minimum cost of living for one year.

My criteria for a return to housing is a one bedroom apartment, outside of downtown and near a subway station. This includes internet access, and a cell phone. It also includes a bed, a kitchen table, and a desk. These items can be sourced fairly cheaply from IKEA, or other budget retailer. Second hand furniture is out of the question due to risk of bed bugs.

Moving into an apartment in Toronto requires an up-front payment of First & Last month’s rent. Using those two months as a guide, I’ve listed the minimum base cost as two months expenses. Seeing I’m starting from nothing, that will include start-up costs for items such as utensils, dishes, pots, pans, a bed, a table, and other items.

I’ve used figures including the cost of rent, groceries, phone, etc. My aim is to balance my needs against overall costs. That’s to say I have given a lot of thought to the value and importance of the items I’ve listed.

The numbers, as I’ve written, are crowd-sourced and are averaged by numbeo.com. Fairly accurate from what I’ve seen.

*

Below I abstract the figures around moving into a 1-bedroom apartment. More detailed figures are farther down the page. Costs of bedding, pots and pans, etc, are based on low-middle range examples. Costs of miscellany include average price of condiments, spices, etc.

*

Minimum Start-Up Costs:

Rent – First & Last

2 x $1,800 – Low-Mid Average Cost of 1-bed Apartment as of July, 2021

$3,600

Groceries – (2 Months)

2 x $568 – as of July, 2021

$1,136

Utilities – (2 Months)

2 x $165 – Calculated for 85 square feet, as of July, 2021

$330

Misc. Consumables – (2 Months, Start-Up)

1 x $43 – Grooming, Hygiene, Laundry Soap, etc.

$43

Textiles – (Start-Up)

1 x $150 – Bedding, Towels, Dish Cloths, etc.

$150

Internet Access – (2 Months)

2 x $75 – Budget Network Access Provider

$150

Transit Pass – (2 Months)

2 x $156 – As of July, 2021

$312

Phone – (2 Months)

2 x $15 – Least Expensive Phone Plan

$30

Kitchenware – (Start-Up)

$575 – Coffee Maker, Pots, Pans, Dishes, Can Openers, etc.

Furniture – from IKEA

Kitchen Table – LERHAMN

$130

Twin Bed – Frame & Mattress

$79 – Frame – NEIDEN

$199 – Mattress – MORGEDAL

Writing Desk

$130 – MALM

Totalling:

$6834, before tax – this is the approximate start-up cost to move into a 1-bedroom apartment.

In calculating the ten months additional to the first two start-up months, I’ve used these same numbers, minus the start-up costs around bedding and kitchenware.

Categories
Uncategorized

Creative Targets

Over the past few days I sought and found an Amazon delivery box to change into a container for my rice cooker. I lost it once, having to climb into a recycling dumpster to retrieve it. Today I went to work on it at Harrison Baths. Unsatisfactory is the only word to describe the result.

The problem, of course is a combination of things. Work-surface (the end of a bench, at bench height), less tape than I would like (for weather proofing), and, as always, time.

Constructing these isn’t very difficult, but along with space and resources to work, it takes some forethought and planning. Time and conditions are relevant factors. Figuring out how to fold the material while maintaining dimensions correct both internal and external requires a little finesse. And luck, but that’s also affected by factors.

The main thing about making these — or buying a new set of Tupperware, or new durable shopping bags, or any of the other items I use daily in my homelessness, is that it’s more than a just solution to an immediate problem. It’s an investment in a future which assumes continued homelessness.

Years ago, a volunteer I’d chatted with at a meal program saw me in the street. He greeted me, asking how I was. The answer I gave him encapsulates the reality of an institutionalized mind, a homeless mind. I said, “I was homeless yesterday, I’m homeless today, and I’ll be homeless tomorrow.” That is the truth of homelessness. Eventually, the future is your adversary.

My time homeless has spanned the years a person would normally build a career, a life, a history of their experiences, memories, which I’d argue are the brickwork of identity. Time, when it becomes your adversary, forces escape. Oblivion, nostalgia, anger, violence — there are many ways to run from an intractable foe. My own escape has been to attack time on it’s own terms. Whether by delving into fictionalized versions of the lives of Roman Emperors, the lives of real, living legends, or galaxies of imagined, extrapolated futures, my escape has been a fight, and a search for meaning, guided by curiosity.

My curiosity finds in history human meaning. It is made of stories, our past. No matter where on earth we are from, or where we are, our lives are the result of a long process of change, and growth, and evolution. People are what make the world, and people are living and telling the stories which make our history.

Periodically, I remember that spices were prized, of staggering value. These are items we now take for granted. Pepper, salt, these are considered staples, and bland staples at that. Items like these were instrumental in conjuring the institutions our world was built upon, the institutions we take for granted as inevitable, natural, normal.

(Wish I could spend time polishing this.)

Categories
News

3/21/2022

Highlights first, then some detail.

Fundraiser is active and I need your help. All donors are welcome.

My fundraising goal, when I started this process, was about $35,000. That figure represented one year’s security, housed, off the street. The dollar amount now, due to factors related to global events, is higher. For that reason, I’ll describe my fundraising goals more loosely. First, a note on why I’ve chosen the cost of one full year as the bare minimum for success.

One year is not a long time to build a life. Yet it might be just long enough to get started rebuilding one.

In that time I plan to apply to university, work, generate income, and make a return to life and living.

Today, my fundraising goal is the figure that will keep me housed for one year, regardless the specific number – $40,000 or $400,000, whatever it takes to get me housed for one year, that is the fundraising goal. Key to success in this endeavour is that it happen quickly. Otherwise, I’m only some kind of bizarre character whose ongoing misery is being sponsored by people viewing from the sidelines, for a one-time fee.

While my needs are primarily financial I also have a need for therapy. My physical health is good. Mentally, I am not well. Bitter and frustrated, I need to heal the damage caused by grinding long-term traumatic stress, sleep deprivation, social isolation, and the destruction of my sense of self. It’s a complex picture, wholistically, yet achievable with help.

Those are the highlights, in brief.

Thank you for your time, and your donations.

Donations can be made via my GoFundMe, or through my Ko-Fi page.

Instagram: @thiswholethingislame / @homeless_daily

For your convenience, here is an excerpt form my GFM:

I’ve stayed in shelters. I’ve rented a bed. I’ve applied for housing. I went door to door, mowing lawns. I’ve worked with the system, and with case workers. I’ve appealed to family. I’ve stayed with friends. I’ve been sleeping on the street for many years.

A return to housing starts with funding. Re-building a life is impossible without resources. The ground-level reality is there is no way out of homelessness without money.

Chris Leach / Homeless Since 2007

You’re already familiar with some of my story, I expect. You’ll already be aware I have a meandering, long-winded, and often absurdly convoluted way of communicating. That can be a lot of work. Clearly, you’re up to it. Good.

Time is a resource all of us possess. Our power to utilize time in ways we choose is determined by our status. As a homeless person, my time is spent, primarily, on basic survival. Conditions don’t allow for a lot of learning, goal-setting, or meaningful time management.

This reality makes any shift in living or circumstance a serious undertaking. Hence the long delay in returning to this blog.

The next post I expect to make will go into some of the factors around the re-imagining of this project. I’ll be writing about my plans around fundraising, re-housing and education and my ultimate goal of applying my experience of homelessness to making deep change to the systems destroying lives for the sin of economic failure.


Categories
News

News

In dire need of your donations. Please visit the GoFundMe to help. You may also donate via Ko-Fi.

Updates will be slow in coming, but they will be shared here and on Instagram, @thiswholethingislame

Please check back again soon.

Categories
Archive

strut, cut, blood, lunch [ʊ]

(March, 2022 – Additional update on text. All donors are now welcome. Things are pretty grim.)

York U (etc.) UPDATE: I’ve looked at the resources listed at the York U website and found a couple of bright spots (though not many). I’ve not yet contacted the Financial Aid desk at York University by phone, though I believe it would be helpful. The naked facts are these — while I am homeless I will not be studying. A return to housing does not look like a realistic possibility. The fundraiser has moved very slowly, a critical problem when the amount to be raised is so large. This slow pace is due mostly to the time cost involved in pursuing donations. At the outset I knew I wouldn’t be performing for the internet in the way people find engaging (see my ‘Ronald Villiers’ Guide to Fundraising on Social Media,’ here.) My rationale, and I stand by it even now, is that homelessness is immoral and unjustifiable. It’s my position that people ought to assess my case for their donation and act according to their own beliefs.

There are only two groups of people I won’t accept donations from — high school students, and activists for human rights/social/climate justice. Everyone else is welcome to contribute. I’ll even take money from celebrities, on the condition they keep it private (I’d rather be homeless than someone’s mascot, thanks just the same).

Much of the money I’ve raised over the course of the fundraiser (500+ days at time of writing) has been spent. You could not be blamed for thinking it irresponsible of me, slowly chipping away at that money meant to be saved for housing. In response I’d ask you to put yourself in my shoes. To date, it’s meant the difference between having a rain poncho, or not; clean clothes four times a month instead of once a month; it’s meant an upgrade from ramen or tomato soup & rice every day to mini-ravioi; it’s meant the first pair of new shoes in years; it’s meant owning a phone with the same phone number for longer than a couple of months; it’s meant haircuts, health, grooming, and pain relief supplies without asking for personal credit; it’s meant a minor though meaningful reduction in daily stress. Crucially, it’s meant not going hungry every 26 or so days, and not having the shame of begging a shop owner for a meal. Of course, the pandemic took a hand in things. My expenses tripled.

That’s the most recent update. It’s December 8, 2021. It’s snowing outside. It’s getting colder and I haven’t found a winter’s jacket worth a damn. Also in need of a new pair of shoes. I don’t expect to find anything worth paying for. This is fairly typical in recent years with so many people needing to economize using thrift stores. Subsequent to higher demand, prices have gone up. Quality and volume of clothing donations has gone down as people hold onto items longer, or donate them to friends and family. It’s a cycle which puts a lot of pressure on the homeless, and others living in poverty.

Thrift stores fill a niche for consumers. They’re a useful (and perhaps inevitable) response to a need. Homelessness is not inevitable. It is not the cost of our economic system, or the price of greater prosperity. Homelessness is a result of the decision to deny people resources they need. Governments, bureaucrats, academics and policymakers decide what resources will be directed at homelessness. They have perpetuated a cruel and inhumane condition taking those decisions. We who live it are only visible as unworthy, filthy, and undeserving. Those stereotypes themselves are perpetuated by decisions made in committee rooms, by vote, by silence.

You may be one of the new generation, those who have a homeless family member. It’s not uncommon anymore. Yet they do nothing. The problem of homelessness will continue to worsen, affecting increasing numbers of people until it is impossible to ignore. Great harm will be done. Human lives will be destroyed. Real and wide-ranging problems will have become entrenched. Then they will pronounce, they will celebrate new initiatives, and cry out the mistakes of the old regime. By then it will be — as with so many other issues threatening people today — too fucking late.

Categories
Archive

Picanha?! It’s Pic-AHN-ya

(Contains some swearing)

In my time homeless I’ve had a lot of dealings with security guards. Some of them are bastards. Some of them are fucking bastards. Some of them are sadistic fucking bastards. Some of them are decent, and some are simply passing through the job, not much invested in it as part of their identity.

Security guards, I’ve noticed, act within the boundaries of the culture of their particular company. Those cultures can vary quite widely. Consider the City of Toronto uniformed security guards. They’re the best and friendliest guards that I’ve ever encountered. In my experience, they go out of their way to accommodate people, applying their own discretion to situations rather than simply consulting a rule book.

Some corporate cultures take a mostly hands-off attitude, keeping out of the way unless action is necessary.

Other cultures, though, make the decision to actively enforce policy by aggressively pursuing outcomes. You can imagine which will be staffed by real people and which will be staffed by cowboys.

I’ve lived and slept a long time on Toronto’s Hospital Row. I’ve seen and experienced some of the ways different hospitals engage as publicly funded institutions.

At one hospital in Toronto, for instance, I have witnessed the security guards who work there take homeless and elderly men violently off the premises. At a hospital! I mention this not because it is an exception, but because it is the rule at that hospital. In at least three instances (over the course of one Winter) I witnessed this sort of behaviour, including a lot of laughter as the group of guards watched an elderly or otherwise infirm homeless person stagger and limp away from the hospital after being ejected.

My own experiences at that hospital have been centred around having an urgent need to use the toilet at early hours. Even in that circumstance I was aggressively approached and told to leave. The rationale on one occassion, according to the three security guards who pounded on the bathroom door, was that I wasn’t registered at Emergency. That doesn’t merit a response, to my thinking.

I’ve got a lot more on this subject and I look forward to casting some light on it.

I just wanted to bring some attention to how near to normal the actions of the security guards who killed that man in Brazil Thursday night are.

And of course open the question of exactly how much authority we are comfortable handing over to people whose only legitimacy stems from a lease agreement and business license.

Categories
Archive Video

The Best Thing About Tomorrow is Yesterday

I’ve had so many little niggles with this video and post. Is it ironic that the problems I’ve had are because I’ve rushed a little? Or is it poetic? Anyway…

Often, a criticism the power structure will target critics with comes in the form of a question, ‘What’s your plan, then, if you’re so smart?’

With every problem the modern world is facing, economics plays a role. From a galactic-level overview to an electron-level inquiry the way we quantify, measure, value, and assess our world is at root of everything. The economy is one aspect of that overall process, and as it currently exists, is a real problem.

Origin determines outcome. Framework of thought. Expectation. Process.
The lesson of the modern world is the importance of ‘the economy.’ Forgive the use of quote marks. It’s a term so broadly used that it’s a symbol rather than an idea, so I wanted to mark it out for emphasis. The economy I refer to is the overall system of interchange, the creation and distribution of units of service and goods making human life function in a technological world. The economy is itself the result of decisions on value and worth, assessment and quantification. The discipline of Economics is very much at the root of the problem. An eye does not see itself, to be obnoxiously glib. Every time a figure of authority speaks about economics, they are treating it as a science, which it definitively is not.

Music: Arcade Fire / Everything Now

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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.