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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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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?