Faker – 27 September 2013

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27 September 2013

At the park it was hot,  the kind of weather we wished we’d had in summer. I sat on the sidewalk with Stan, Mariah, Fat Chuck, Jacques, Shakes, Hawk and his dog Dillinger.

Chuck said, “I was listening to Doc and Woody on CHEZ FM. Every Friday they pick the ‘Bonehead of the week’:

This week’s Bonehead of the Week comes to us from…where else…Florida! A Deltona man was a little short on cash when he went to pay his water bill. Soon, the entire water department was shut down because of an unknown powder – which turned out to be crack. In an envelope. He had tried to pay his water bill with crack cause you know, the street value was probably even more than he owed on his water bill!

Another one was

…about a local lad. Seems a 19-year-old burglar kicked in the window of a Bells Corners hair salon to steal $50. In doing so, he cut his foot. So he went a couple of blocks away and called 9-1-1 for his small laceration. The cops were able to put two and two together rather quickly, and he was arrested. 

Stan, wearing roller blades, was watching a man, with his foot on the curb, bending over to tie his shoe. Talk about boneheads, do ya see the size of the wad sticking out of that guy’s back pocket? I’ve been timing him. He’s just waiting to get robbed.

I said, “So, that’s why you’re wearing the roller blades.”

“Yeah, once a day, just to keep in practise. Sometimes they just make it too easy.”

Shakes made a comment to Chuck who said, “We’re having a conversation here, Shakes. Talk to Jacques.

“Does anybody want some pizza? I go to this restaurant where they give me all their left over pizzas. There’s more than I can eat.”

I asked, “Aren’t you staying with Bruce, doesn’t he have room in his fridge for the extras?”

“Well, I am, but that’s just temporary, anyway there’s only so many days you can eat pizza, then I just throw it out.

“Yesterday I offered to clean out his fridge. It really needed it. He said, ‘Go for it.’ I threw out three big jars that had once had beets in them, but all that was left was about an inch of juice in the bottom, so I chucked them. When he checked the fridge he asked, ‘Where’s my beet juice?’ I said the jars were empty, there were no beets left. He said, ‘It’s the juice I like. Now, what am I going to put on my french fries?’ Have you ever heard of that, beet juice on french fries? ha ha ha ha ha.

I asked Mariah, “Have you had any more problems with spirits?”

“They’re still there, coming and going, but they haven’t been bothering us.”

I said, “I guess that Joy’s been sleeping well then?”

“I don’t know. She’s not here today because of women’s problems.”

Shakes passed a folded grocery flyer to Jacques, who passed it to Chuck, who passed it to Mariah.  He said, “Mariah, can you roll me a joint? I’m a bit Shaky this morning. She opened the flyer. In the crease was a line of crumbled weed and a rolling paper. She rolled the joint.

I said, “When I was a smoker I always used to roll my own cigarettes.”

Chuck said, “It reminds me of prison. The first day they’d hand you a packet of Drum tobacco, rolling papers and a pack of matches. Then they’d say, ‘Now, don’t go burning the place down.’ Ha ha ha ha ha.

“I had to borrow some money from my dad this morning. I said to him, “Daddy, can I have ten bucks. I’m flat broke and I need to buy a bottle.” He pulled out his wallet and I could see that it was stuffed. I said, ‘You might as well give me a twenty so I can buy two bottles.’ If he’s going to show me his money, of course I’m going to ask for it. No point asking for too much or he’d just say no, but if I ask for a little bit less, and he agrees to it, I’ll always ask for extra. Ha ha ha ha ha.”

“I owe four hundred dollars on my television bill. If I don’t pay them at least two hundred they’re going to cut me off. I also have a drug bill of sixty dollars. I’m not going to be able to pay both. Maybe I’ll ask Hawk if he can wait until next week I’ll be getting a GST (Goods and Services Tax) refund on Tuesday.”

I said, “Now’s the time to ask him.”

“Hawk, can I hold off paying you until next week, or the end of the month?”

“Sure.”

I asked, Did you mean the end of this month, or the end of some month?”

Mariah was rearranging her TENS Muscle Therapy pads. She uses them for  muscle massage on her back. These work as well as a massage.  I paid about a hundred and sixty for these, but the price has really gone down now. I think you could probably pick up a unit like this for a hundred and thirty.

“That sun is really getting to me. I got a beer in my pack, but I don’t even feel like drinking it.”

Chuck said, “Did you hear that massage therapy is covered under our Sunshine Cards?”

I asked, What’s a Sunshine Card?”

Mariah said, “It’s what we call our medical disability health cards.”

“Yeah, ” said Chuck, “some guy was going to a massage parlour and, sure enough, she was running the card through her machine and giving him a receipt. Only, he wasn’t getting massages, he was getting blow jobs. Can you imagine, the government paying for blow jobs? He was going every week. Some guys really know how to work the system. It’s a good way to relieve tension. I think they put a stop to that pretty quick, or else I’d be there right now. Ha ha ha ha ha.”

Mariah said, “I don’t go for massages, but I go to my ‘chiro’ every once in a while, when my back acts up. That’s covered.”

Chuck said, “The problem with ‘chiros’ is that they make you feel so good — even better than you feel normally — so that’s how they keep you coming back.”

Stan watched a young woman walk by, talking on a cell phone. He shouted to her, “Hey! you’re not really talking to anybody. You’re just trying to look important, ‘She said, she said, she said…’  Faker!  Faker! Faker!”

Eagle Feathers – 26 September 2013

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26 September 2013

Sitting on the curb were Little Jake, Shakes, John, Mariah and Jacques. I parked myself cross-legged on the sidewalk in front of them.  Jake said, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” He was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, but took off his shirt. “This must be Indian Summer, don’t you think, Jacques?”

“I don’t know, it seems early.”

Jake said, “I was reading the Farmer’s Almanac. It says we’re going to have a cold winter. Even at home, we always read the Farmer’s Almanac. They were always right about the weather.

“Jacques said, “Did you hear, they’re building a big hydroponic plant to grow medicinal marijuana, but the government is causing problems for them.”

“Yeah,” I said, “they’re doing that in Smith Falls at the old Hershey Chocolate Factory. It’s a huge place.”

Jake said, “Did you hear what happened to me?”

“No, Jake, what happened?”

“I was hit by a car, that’s what happened. I was just riding along then ‘bang’, I was sitting in the middle of the street, just like you are. I said, ‘What the fuck just happened?’ A guy on the sidewalk said, ‘You were just hit by a car, man.’ I was all kinda woozy. I just sat there. my bike was  ten feet away.”

I asked, “How did the accident occur. Was it at an intersection? Was the car turning?”

“I don’t know. I was so fuckin’ hammered, I don’t know what happened. One minute I’m on my bike. The next minute I’m on the ground. I didn’t realize it but the crash loosened my front wheel. I have quick release wheels. I was going down the hill near Gladstone and Preston and it started wobbling. Imagine what would have happened if it had fallen off.  I got bruises on my ribs, on my leg. I’ve got a scraped elbow, just when the other elbow had nearly healed. It happened last week.”

Shakes said, ” It didn’t happen last week. It happened on Monday.”

“Well, last week, Monday, it’s all the same to me.”

Shakes said, “Dennis, Dennis, do you know what happened to me? I was panning on Elgin, near Scrimm’s Florists. There’s a  bank across the street there at Somerset, and Mc Donalds is just down the block… Anyway, I bought a Big Mac and put it beside me. After a while, I’d made the price of two bottles and a pack of cigarettes. I got up and my Big Mac was gone. Somebody stole it. I was really looking forward to that Big Mac.”

“DId you see who stole it?

Jake said, “Shakes never knows who stole things. He probably fell asleep. He’s lost shoes, backpacks, cash, pot, cigarettes, beer.”

Shakes said, “There were all kinds of people around, some crossing the street, some walking behind me. I didn’t see who took it.”

Mariah came by. I asked her, “Have you had any more problems with spirits?”

“Not me, but Joy has. That little girl was being very bad. I hadn’t really prepared my self but I confronted her. Sometimes they just want to be noticed. She came from a family where she was ignored, just pushed aside. That’s the impression I got. She was a daddy’s girl, but then he left. I don’t know what happened to him.”

I asked , “How did you confront her?”

“I just faced her and took her energy away. That’s what she had been doing to Joy, taking her energy; it was causing her to get sick. We had a talk. The little girl wasn’t happy about where some of the things were placed on the walls, so we changed them. Moved some other things around.  After that, she seemed happy. ‘Whoosh’ she was gone.

“The next day Joy came upstairs and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I got a full nights sleep. That hasn’t happened for weeks.’ I got a kick out of that.”

“You said that you weren’t prepared. What did you mean by that?”

“I’ve been looking for eagle and hawk feathers; on my hands and knees in the woods, but I didn’t find any. I had some others that I used. After a cleansing like that I don’t use the feathers again. I’ll tie them into a dream catcher, or something.”

“When did you realize that you could contact spirits.”

“I’ve always known. If I go into the woods, I’ll hear voices. I don’t see anything, but I’ll feel the presence of a spirit as a cold spot, or an unusual breeze that just passes then is gone.”

Frank said, “I saw a beautiful feather the other day. It was kind of brownish gold, turning to black. I think it was some kind of hawk feather.”

Mariah said, “It sounds like an eagle.”

“Yeah, ” I said, “It sounds like a golden eagle, We have them out at the lake. They’re huge.”

Jake said to Mariah, “Is that beer you’re drinking. I didn’t know you drank beer.”

“I usually drink vodka. It’s not as noticeable. and I don’t have to pee so often.

Frank said, “Yeah, with beer, once you start pissing, you’re up every ten minutes.”

I said, “I usually figure it’s once for each beer.”

Jake passed me a joint, “No thanks, if I had that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to work.”

Shakes was taking pot out of small baggies, breaking up the buds and putting them into a small, black plastic container. He handed me a bud and said, “Here’s some for later.” I put it in my shirt pocket. He said, “Here, I’ll give you a baggie. I hate getting shirt lint in my joints.”

As I was walking back to work I met Magdalene. She said, “I know you, but I forget your name.”

“I’m Dennis.”

“Yeah, Dennis.”

I asked, “How’s everything going? I haven’t seen you for a while.”

“I don’t know. Okay, I guess. I just came from down there,”  indicating the direction I was walking.

I asked, “Is Alphonse with you?”

“He’s in jail.”

“Why is he in jail.”

“Assault. I didn’t charge him. I know some women go to the police, but this happened on the street. Somebody else reported it.”

“How are you feeling now?”

“Not so good. Have you got any bus tickets? I haven’t been home for three weeks. I’ve been staying at the Sheps.”

Dingo Ate The Baby – 24 September 2013

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24 September 2013

This morning, on the bus, I was reading Stephen King’s “On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft”. It’d fascinating, so fascinating that I missed my transfer point and had to backtrack to get downtown.

The first thing Joy said to me was, “You’re late!”

“I know,” I said, “I missed my bus stop. I was reading a book by Stephen King. He had a serious vehicle pedestrian accident in 1999. He was nearly killed. ”

“He’s really creepy.  I saw him interviewed one time;  no  wonder he writes such creepy stories.”

“How was your day, yesterday. Did you go to Jacques’ for dinner?”

“I went over there but he was making something with salmon. I just can’t eat fish. I don’t mind crab and lobster. Mariah often buys live lobster. When I was over there one time, she’d put them on the floor. Her cat, Precious was playing with them. They had the locks on their claws so they weren’t dangerous, but they still kept coming after her. I laughed to see them waving their claws around and not being able to do anything with them.

“After I left Jacques, I went to Hartman’s to get groceries. I got a pack of twelve chicken thighs; you know, the part above the drumstick. I also got pork chops, onions — Jacques had given me some potatoes, so I really pigged out.

“I’m going someplace with him, so I don’t know if I’ll be at the park.  Maybe I will. we’ll see. The other guys should be up there.”

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As I arrived Joy was on the telephone to Hippo, “What do you mean, you can’t get out of your apartment! Strap some knives to your hands and go after them! You phoned the cops? They didn’t come! How about your landlord? Yeah, I’ll head up there on my way back.

“That was Hippo. Some crackheads in his building are pissed off with him. They say he was responsible for some guy getting evicted. He says he doesn’t even know the guy. I wish he’d grow some balls. He want’s me to go over and do his dirty work for him.”

“Hi Mariah,” “how’s it going with the spirits in your house?”

“They’re still there. I feel them passing every so often, but they don’t bother me.  They’re not knocking things down like they were before. If they get bad I’ll have to do another cleansing. I need to find sore eagle feathers.”

I asked, “Do you ever buy them at Beaded Dreams?”

“No, I find them in the wild, that’s the only way.”

“Then you have them blessed? Is that what happens?”

“Yeah, I have them blessed.”

Joy said, “The spirits in my place are driving me nuts. I don’t mind Biddy knocking in the closet. In fact, sometimes when I’m watching TV I’ll notice the  image of a man sitting on the other end of the sofa.”

I asked, “So, he’s watching TV with you?”

“Yeah, he’s watching TV with me. One time I had one of those paranormal programs on, called “Haunting”. He really started banging in the closet then, so I don’t watch that any more.

“It’s not him that freaks me out it’s the little girl. She looks to be about six years old and wears old-fashioned clothes, you know, with lots of layers of underthings.”

“You mean  crinolines?”

“Yeah, that’s what they’re called. She wears a long dress and has her hair in some kind of a bun at the back. She’s got the pale, spooky blue eyes. She’d be pretty if she didn’t always have that scowl on her face. This morning she moved my kitchen table about a foot. I tripped over it going out the door. I could have been killed.”

Mariah said, “Joy doesn’t know how to talk to them.”

“What, like I should make friends with them?”

“No, but the way you talk to them is too prissy;  please, thank you and shit like that. You have to be firm, assertive, or else they’ll just laugh at you. They won’t take you seriously. You have to show them that you’re the boss, then they’ll leave you alone, go somewhere else. I think that Buddy guy has been in my place, but not the little girl.

“It’s not the spirits I’m worried about, it’s Charlie. I told you he had TTP. He got out of hospital at six this morning. He’s been having chest pains and they kept him in to do some scans. He said they filled him up with so much stuff that his pee is flourescent.”

I said, “That will make it easier for him to hit the toilet. When it’s dark he won’t even need to turn the light on.”

“He needs something to help his aim. He’s also full of Dilaudid.”

“That must be fun for him!”

“Yeah, for him it’s okay; for everybody around him it’s a damned nuisance. I want to start drinking again just to smack him upside the head.  He can get real ornery.

“The scar tissue has broken down where he had the operation, but now it’s moved to the right. That’s what’s causing him the pain.”

Joy said, “Here comes Hawk and Dillinger, only Dillinger is going the other way. When Mariah and I saw that dog for the first time we thought it was a dingo. We both said, ‘Dingo Ate My Baby’ .”

I asked, “What does that mean?”

“It’s from a movie with Meryl Streep, called A Cry in the Dark. It’s based on a true story in Australia where a dingo (wild Australian dog) ate/carried away her baby while they were camping. I think the woman actually killed her baby then left it out in the desert where she thought the dingos would eat it, but they didn’t.

“Did you see the bag of clothes I got this morning; a  big garbage bag behind my box?”

“No.”

“Anyway, I went through them. I gave most of them to Jacques. Most of them were really worn, nearly threadbare. I kept a sweater by ‘Roots’. There were a couple of pairs of  women’s training pants.”

“Did you keep those?”

“No, there was no elastic at the bottom and they were too girly. Jacques will wear them. He’s the one making a fashion statement. Look at him, lime green shirt, orange pants with khaki shorts over top. He doesn’t care what he wears.”

Hippo stopped by. I said, “Hi Hippo, did they let you leave the building?”

“Yeah, I just made a run for it. I don’t even know what it’s all about. First they said it was about a guy that got evicted. There was a girl evicted but not a guy. Then they changed their story. In any case I didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t even know the people in my building. I know some names and recognize some faces. I can’t put the two together.”

Joy said, “I knew a coolie that lived upstairs. I knocked four of her front teeth out.

“Hippo, do you have my mail?”

“Yeah, here it is.”

“This one here says ‘return to sender’. It’s one I sent to Jake. I hope it’s the one with the fifty dollar money order. Yes! we’re getting drunk tonight.

Bed Bugs, Again – 23 September 2013

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“How are you this morning, Joy?”

“I’m fuckin’ freezing, man! I can’t stop shivering.  Jacques was by earlier.  He laughed so hard I thought he was going to piss himself, ‘What are you doing out here, Little One. It’s cold and it’s Monday. You don’t like cold and you don’t do Mondays.’

I said to him, ‘Look dude, I don’t have a fuckin’ thing in the house to eat. That’s why I’m out here.  So far, I’ve made a dollar eighty-two.’

‘Little One, you come to my place. I make you a good meal. I also have a flyer from Hartman’s. They have some great specials now. I’ll give you the coupons.’

“It’s fine that they have a sale. Mariah is always stocking up when they cut prices; but I’ve got no fuckin’ money.  She gets extra cash selling pot.

“John is still trying to get me on subsidized housing;  but I’ve got no phone for them to call me back, so I have to keep calling them. I’m going to get that sorted this week,  get Jake’s internet cut off, since I can’t get into his computer. His cell phone has been cut off since he hasn’t been making payments. I’m going to work something out with Bell so I can pay a monthly fee for just my TV and land line.”

I said, “Jake could wire you some money, or send you a check.”

“Yeah, I know, there are a lot of things he could do; but I don’t see it happening.

“I found another one of those babittes on my couch. I lifted the pillow — I’ve got one of those blue covered hospital pillows that I use for stuffing. I took it from the hospital — I didn’t see anything at first, until it moved, then I grabbed it and pinched it… That same rotting wood smell. It was a bed bug, alright. The babies are invisible and they don’t have the numbing agent that the adults do. It really hurts when they bite. If  you watch them feed, they gradually change to an orange color. That’s the blood they’re taking out of you.

“I’m afraid to even go upstairs to Mariah’s place. I just stand at the door and wave. I don’t want to be responsible for her getting bugs. I don’t even want to tell the landlady. She’ll blame me for bringing them in.  I may not stay after my lease is up in November.  I’ll see what happens between now and then. I’m still on good terms with the landlady.

“Hawk thinks he may have brought some bugs over when he came Wednesday. He’s in a high-rise, they even come out of the electrical outlets. I’m going to the hardware store to get the bed bug spray that Shark uses. He seems to spray about once every two weeks. If he was more careful about who he let into his place, he wouldn’t have a problem.”

I said, “He was telling me that he thought they were in the walls.

“They can be anywhere, in books, in laundry, in carpets, under baseboards.  Shark has thrown out so many sofas, blankets and pieces of clothing. He usually gets them for free, but even so, it’s a real hassle replacing things all the time.”

I asked, “What did you do with the pillow and the blankets that were on the couch?”

“Bagged them up and threw them in the garbage. I have more I can use. I put a white sheet on the couch to see if any more came out, but they didn’t.

“I’m even afraid to turn the heat on for fear it will draw out the bugs. My apartment is as cold as it is out here.”

I asked, “Did you have a good weekend?”

“It was quiet. I didn’t go out, just sat and watched movies, some over and over again.”

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Prison Costs – 20 September 2013

Cost to the Public for Keeping a Person in Jail

Canadian statistics from 2006 show an average of 110 persons per 100,000 population are in prison. The United States average is 738 per 100,000. On any given day, approximately 35,000 adults are locked-up in Canadian jails, giving us one of the highest incarceration rates among western industrialized countries.

Another 120,000 are under supervision in the community. Studies show that putting criminals in jail protects the public, but it does not prevent crime. Recidivism rates are estimated at between 50 per cent and 80 per cent.

There are approximately 190 prisons and jails across Canada. Seventy-six are under federal supervision and the provinces and territories look after 114. British Columbia has nine prisons. Persons serving a sentence of more than two years are sent to a federal prison. Those serving less than two years go to provincial jails.

Correctional services cost taxpayers close to three billion dollars a year. If you include policing and court costs, the total would be approximately $10 billion.

It costs $88,000 a year to keep a male in federal prisons, but only $55,000 to keep the same person in a provincial jail.

There are approximately 40,000 youth custody admissions. Youth custody is not reported in all provinces and current statistics are unavailable. Many are in deferred or open custody.

In 1996, courts were given the option to impose conditional sentences served in the community. The cost to the public ranges from $5 to $25 per day. Many citizens oppose conditional sentences and express outrage when a judge allows a convicted person to stay at home instead of going to prison. Hardened criminals and repeat offenders should not qualify for conditional sentences.

However, I have slowly come to accept conditional sentencing for certain offenders. Those sent to prison associate with hardened convicts. They learn how to be better criminals and are exposed to drugs, needle sharing, HIV and AIDS. Some are brutalized by other inmates. Our current prison system with overcrowding and other problems makes rehabilitation difficult for some and impossible for others. Those who have spent time in prison are often worse than they were before incarceration.

Sending someone to prison should be a last resort. Drug addicts, alcoholics and those with mental health issues need treatment and rehabilitation. Young people should be discouraged from getting involved with gangs and drugs. Restorative justice programs are worth trying. Anything would be better than the current system.

random.shadow@hotmail.com

Injustice (Legislated ) – 20 September 2013

Criminalizing Canada’s Poor: Will the ‘real’ criminals please stand up?

Rodney Graham
December 13, 2005

He taunted her as she walked back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the officer’s Café. “How ugly you are!” he shot at her, “You have lost your teeth. Are you trying to hide?”

To summarize this passage from Les Miserables’, Inspector Javert arrests Fantine, after she lashes out at the ‘Jim dandy’ and scratches him. Arbitrarily and on the spot, Javert the policeman sentences her to six months in jail. Most know the story. She is a poor woman, moral, but because of circumstance (She loses her job) and is slowly forced into more and more desperation until she sells her hair to a barber, then ends up on the street trying to make enough to feed her child Cosette.

A portrait of injustice – but is it a good example of contemporary society? Some would say yes. Hypocrisy, double standards and corruption – We have it now, as then, and perhaps even more now.

There are more homeless in Canada per capita than in the U.S. Canada has one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness of any developed nation in the world. We have about 200,000 homeless. The U.S., with a population nine times the size of us has 750,000.
Injustice

While welfare rates have been cut in several provinces in recent years, and housing is an issue in almost every province; there has also been a rise in laws directly targeting the less fortunate.

In Toronto, Canada’s largest city there have been activities resembling a war with activist groups and coalitions of groups demonstrating against police “sweeps” similar to those carried out in large U.S. cities. “The system has cut welfare rates to the poor in Ontario, there are not enough shelters, and now to top it off they are implementing a new law making it illegal to sleep in public areas. It is obscene, it’s immoral.” Said John Clarke of Ontario Coalition Against Poverty in Toronto. “Bill 8 targeted squeegee kids and others, people who were not committing a crime. Other provinces are now copying our provincial by-law.”

“This week, Toronto City Council voted into place legislation that will authorize the clearing of homeless people from City Hall Square and other city owned squares.” Clarke said, “Municipal bylaw officers and cops are already using city rules to clear public parks and other spaces where people try to survive. This latest move complements the Provincial Safe Streets Act that has been used to persecute those who panhandle and squeegee. Urban space is being redeveloped so as to put the emphasis on upscale commercial and residential property. The poor and homeless face a brutal wave of social cleansing and the kind of legislation I have just alluded to is the legal face of this vile attack. Defying and defeating this inhuman assault on those driven into poverty will be a hard fought battle we can’t afford to lose.”

In BC, the Safe Streets Act was just implemented late in 2004. The fines ranging from $86 to $115, to be issued by police as tickets similar to traffic offences, are the finishing touches of the Liberal government’s Safe Streets Act and amended Trespass Act. It is similar to Bill 8 in Ontario, which was implemented four years ago. But Bill Burrill, president of Together Against Poverty in Victoria BC says their new law is more aimed at panhandlers in BC. “The politicians claimed they were targeting inappropriate behaviour or aggressive panhandlers,” Burrill said, ” I don’t believe that — the criminal code clearly covers all acts inappropriate in public. They don’t need this Safe Streets Act at all -It is specifically targeting panhandlers. It has been brought into place to “beautify” the streets for rich tourists.” The law is so new it hasn’t been challenged yet. There is a challenge to bill 8 in Ontario however.

Other cities were watching closely as National Anti Poverty Association challenged Winnipeg’s draconian anti-panhandling by-law. It dragged on for five years and was finally settled out of court with Winnipeg city hall finally giving in. The Winnipeg law restricted where and when panhandlers could work. Winnipeg had implemented it in 1995 and interestingly, their own lawyers had advised against the law agreeing with activists that the criminal code was sufficient to deal with panhandlers. The police even advised against the law. City council did what Toronto’s city council did. They ‘vetoed’ the findings and advice of those who warned against it and voted for the by-law against the advice of the ‘experts’ and did what the business community demanded. Winnipeg also implemented the very first anti-squeegee kid by-law in 1998. Again, against the advise of a 50 member task force made up of people from various social agencies and police. Almost unanimously, the number one recommendation was to licence the squeegeers and allow then to continue. There has been no challenge to the squeegee law, however. Winnipeg’s panhandler by-law was repealed without going to trial and replaced with one focusing only on aggressive behaviour while panhandling. So NAPO won in principle. Amazingly, Winnipeg city council is again proposing a new anti-panhandler by-law.

“We need to find a better way to deal with poverty and desperation,” said Dennis Howlett, Executive director of NAPO, (National Anti Poverty Organization) in Ottawa. ” The reason these laws are being passed is because of pressure from small businesses in municipalities.”

Howlett said that the costs of trails of panhandlers costs taxpayers a great deal of money when you add to it all the cost of defending unjust laws in Canada — money that could be spent on housing for the homeless.

Echoing his statements are activists across the nation who are enjoying tremendous success in defending panhandlers and squeegee kids in court. The Ticket Defence Committee in Ottawa has defended over two hundred people fined under the Safe Streets Act. Howlett said the activists and lawyers have been ‘tremendously successful’ in having charges thrown out. The defence is simple — The fine would pose an undue hardship on someone who has no money.

In Toronto, lawyers and activists have tackled it another way: arguing that the law is against the Charter Rights of the panhandlers and squeegee kids. The Act may also be unlawful since only the federal government can introduce laws regarding criminal matters. BC has gone against the spirit of that argument apparently and their anti-panhandling law was upheld after a challenge by NAPO. There has been no appeal yet from NAPO on the decision and a challenge to the new Safe Streets Act is a higher priority. In the United States advocates have been very successful defending the poor citing cruel and unusual punishment as outlined in the American Constitution. Several American cities have actually had to repeal their anti-panhandling by-laws and laws targeting the poor on the street.

Along with many judges across Canada who have a conscience — Judge Edwin Zimmerman, a judge in Winnipeg, where the first squeegee kid law was enacted, not only threw one of Canada’s first anti-squeegee charges a few years ago, but added, ” I think you’re doing a fine job — you’re dismissed!’

Some of the Canadian cities with laws concerning panhandling are: Ottawa; Quebec City; Toronto, Winnipeg; Calgary and Vancouver. Quebec City, Montreal, Winnipeg, the province of Ontario, and the province of BC have laws targeting squeegee kids.

Is there a need for new laws targeting the poor? When questioning the public about it many will say, ‘yes, because of the crime on the street’. But they are not aware that neither panhandlers nor squeegee kids are likely to harm them in any way. In fact, statistics show the opposite– that the homeless and poor on the street are often victims of violence from the general public!

Crime on the streets

I have spent many hours observing the behaviour of people on the street. People would often say something rude to the squeegee kids — the same with panhandlers. But not the reverse. I’ve seen worse. One day at Portage and Broadway in Winnipeg a young girl and her boyfriend were squeegeeing. A group of kids in an SUV were at the stoplight. As they pulled away one of them threw and ashtray and hit the girl squarely on the temple. Blood poured from her head. I could hear the people in the SUV wailing with laughter as the cowards fled the scene — the girl required 40 stitches. When I told the police they were totally uninterested.

I was on Osborne Street in Winnipeg another day. I witnessed an employee of a tattoo parlour come out of his store and punch a Native male in the face several times until the poor man fell to the ground. At least fifteen people sat sipping their expensive drinks in the sidewalk section of an upscale restaurant. When I asked no one was willing to testify or get involved. Yet another incident in friendly Manitoba: I was not there but heard about it from several youths on the street. A group of males jumped out of a van and beat two squeegee kids severely with golf clubs. When others ran a few short blocks and told police the police said, ‘ The squeegee kids shouldn’t have been on the street it’s their own fault.’ The police refused to search for the van even though they were given the licence number. Yet the chambers of commerce nation wide are hounding the civic politicians to ‘protect’ the public from panhandlers and squeegee kids.

I dressed in shabby clothes one day and tried to pan on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. I have never seen such rude behaviour in my life. I think most people would suffer extreme trauma if they tried to panhandle. I don’t think most people enjoy it actually; they simple do it because they are extremely poor and desperate.

Whereas it is a given that there is crime on the street, the focus of public attention is not being directed by the system or the mainstream media to the real culprits. Meanwhile contemporary law and an attitude leaning in recent years towards less sympathy for the less fortunate has made it a hard go for some people who are merely trying to subsidise a very low fixed income by begging or squeegeeing.

In Barbara Murphy’s book The Ugly Canadian, the decline and fall of a caring society, she states,’ we take pride in our toughness now, not our generous social policies. We warn the poor and sick to keep their heads up; they’ve had their innings. The years of compassion are over (the 40s to the 80s) Today we’re playing hardball…concern about the deficit turned to anger and the public looked for someone to blame. Two items everyone could understand stood out: The deficit and social programs. Even though very little of the deficit could be blamed on social programs’.

Why the trend to Legislation?

Laws against the poor are not new. Vagrancy and panhandling by-laws have been around for over a hundred years – or since the beginning of your nation. The resurgence is mainly because of overly eager civic politicians wanting to placate the desires, moral or otherwise, of the business community.
In 1982 political scientist James Wilson and criminologist George Kelling co-authored an article in Atlantic Monthly titled “Broken Windows”. They claimed that the best way to fight crime was to target the disorder that precedes it, such as: panhandling, garbage, derelict buildings, and graffiti.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani adopted the Broken Windows Theory and implemented a community-policing strategy focused on order maintenance… graffiti washed nightly from subway cars, $1.25 subway turnstile-jumpers arrested, trash picked up. Minor, seemingly insignificant quality-of-life crimes were found to be the tipping point for violent crime. When New York “windows” were repaired, crime dropped – or so the bureaucrats claim. Canadian cities took note and soon Toronto initiated Bill 8.

Bill 8 is province wide in scope and targets squeegee kids as well as other actions deemed anti social behaviour. Activist and director of Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, John Clarke is a big opponent of it and says a group of activists are challenging it. Here is an excerpt from Bill 8:
‘…This is one simple way that citizens measure their quality of life. They want to go shopping or take their children to a park or just go out for a stroll after seeing a show without hassle. They don’t want to worry about encountering behaviour that poses a safety hazard, and yet this is exactly what is happening in Ontario.

Activities such as aggressive solicitation, squeegeeing and the disposal of dangerous objects in parks have compromised the safe use of public places.’

But squeegee kids and panhandlers are extremely unlikely to rob, assault, and rape anyone. It is true, however, that downtown areas of cities are where the highest rates of crime can be found. Interestingly, in Winnipeg where the first anti-squeegee kid by-law was implemented in 1998, drug dealing, which is truly a crime, was rife in Winnipeg. But the Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) politicians, and the police launched no such campaign as was launched against squeegee kids. Why? Squeegee kids and panhandlers were singled out – the poor people on the streets.

Today, you can walk down Osborne Street and immediately see the dealers, pimps, and gang members at the corner of River and Osborne St, standing around looking cool. If one were to check their criminal records it would stretch 10 blocks long. They stand around boldly, as if proud of themselves. Seven years have passed since the squeegee kid by-law and ‘sweep’ of the scruffy looking squeegee kids. ‘Real’ crime in the village is still the same — or even higher. Is it because drugs and other ‘real’ crimes are good for business–but poor/scruffy people are not?
It’s about aesthetics

“It’s a comfort issue”, said Arlne Peltz, Lawyer for NAPO; the group that successfully challenged Winnipeg’s panhandler law five years ago, ” That’s what we’ll show in court, Peltz had said.

The NAPO statement of claim against the Winnipeg panhandler by-law had argued that the true purpose of the panhandler by-law was to distance and separate panhandlers from the rest of the population – to avoid discomfort of proximity to indigents on the street. That’s the story you will get from many an activist — it’s about comfort and aesthetics. Many cities even called their downtown ‘revitalization’ projects ‘beautification’ projects.

Desperate, but not criminals

Every generation thinks the present generation of kids worse than the previous. That’s according to a study done by two Guelph researchers in Ontario -O’Grady and Sprott. They also stated that most people have already made up their minds about homeless youth but they would like to know if the “experts” agree. I’m not a big fan of “experts” especially when it comes to social issues. I have seen their work before and have disagreed many a time but O’Grady and Sprott seem to have made some good points.

Sprott stated that fear is fueling the passage of laws designed to keep schools and society safe from violence, policies that Sprott says are often based more on anxiety and assumptions than reality. Recent examples include the Ontario provincial Safe Streets Act that allows police to ticket people for squeegeeing and outlaws panhandling in spots where the right-of-way is impeded (such as near bank machines and transit stops).

Legislation that dictates where and when street youth can panhandle does not even begin to address the real problems kids face O’grady and Sprott’s study showed that hysteria and paranoia have much to do with people’s perceptions of youth today, especially homeless youth. For example, he believes that people’s consternation with squeegee kids does not have a lot to do with the youths themselves.

His study on squeegee kids included interviews with more than 50 Toronto teens who were involved in squeegee cleaning and 50 who did not clean car windows for money.

The findings revealed that squeegee kids were less likely to sell drugs, commit crimes and engage in violent behaviour than other less-visible street youth were. Squeegee kids also had a better mental outlook… Ironically whole new laws are being implemented to criminalize these people and prevent them from working. The first law was implemented in friendly Manitoba. There are several new laws targeting poor youth in Canada. These laws were brought into being with relative ease with the business communities attending all the city hall meetings across our nation to be careful and make sure these “criminals”‘ are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In the space of a few short months the anti-squeegee kid by-law in Winnipeg was implemented.

Interestingly, youth advocates across Canada have been lobbying for decades literally for the implementation of new laws– to raise the age of consent so that sexual predators in our communities would not victimize young people. The age of consent in Canada is 14 years old. Why have they not been successful? The politicians seem so eager to please the businesspersons across our nation – the poor and scruffy people – people who are not aesthetically pleasing to consumers are quickly confronted with conviction, yet the most vulnerable in our great country are ignored, as are their advocates!

The following is an excerpt from the North American Street Newspaper Association website: ‘A report put out earlier this year by the Washington-based National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) reviewed the punitive policies in 50 U.S. cities. It found that in 49 cities where the information was available, 86 per cent have laws that restrict begging. During the last two years, 12 per cent of those cities have enacted new laws restricting begging, and 73 per cent have laws restricting sleeping and/or camping outdoors.

In many ways (videotaping or monitoring) serves more as a deterrent,” says Michael Stoops, project director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. “No private security guard or police officer’s going to make themselves look foolish in front of a camera. But it’s hard to get patrols out there on a regular basis. So we find it’s best to educate homeless people about what their rights are and to give them the name and address of the local civil liberties attorney.”
“We found litigation to be the best way to stop a law from being passed or enforced,” says Stoops. ‘

In Toronto, police reform lawyers like Mark Wainberg are only beginning to look at the possibility of launching a class-action suit against the police. But in U.S. cities, lawsuits on behalf of the homeless are common

Laws against poor encourage violence. According to several studies in the United States it is the homeless and desperate youth who have suffered assaults and been victims of crime – perpetrated by non-homeless individuals in the general public. When poor people are assaulted on the street they almost never report it. But the media blows it up big when a poor person is provoked or attacks someone of the general public.

In The U.S. during the years (1999-2003) advocates and homeless shelter workers have seen an alarming rise in reports of homeless men, women, and even children killed, beaten, and harassed. Since 1999 National Coalition for the Homeless has been compiling records of abuse against the homeless in America. In 2003, nine homeless people died as a result of beatings by non-homeless individuals. Dozens were assaulted on the street. These numbers are probably far higher, however, because most homeless people do not report abuse. There has not been a similar study in Canada.

Groups like National Coalition for the Homeless in the States have been successful in challenging unjust laws and in spreading the word: “Instead of the compassionate responses that communities have used to save lives in the past two decades, the common response to homelessness is to criminalize the victims through laws and ordinances that make illegal life-sustaining activities that people experiencing homelessness are forced to do in public,” said Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who is himself formerly homeless.

As it becomes increasingly difficult to afford housing, this country is turning to jails instead of creating affordable housing. These individuals and families are arrested for committing such illegal acts as sitting or standing on sidewalks and napping in parks. Whitehead stated, “At the national level, we see a relationship between municipalities’ efforts to make homelessness a crime and the increases in hate crimes and violent acts directed at homeless people in those cities.”

A woman I spoke to on the street in Winnipeg made and interesting comment…
‘ Yes, there is a lot of crime on the street, she said ‘and there’s a group of unproductive people who are lazy and dishonest. There should be something done about it. But I am not talking about panhandlers or squeegee kids…’

Reprinted from Streetsheet, Canada
© Street News Service: www.street-papers.org

On the Streets Again – 19 September 2013

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bench

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19 September 2013

Sitting in the shade were Shark, Chris, Fat Chuck, and Frank. Shark said, “I’ve just been to my doctor, he’s also my specialist (HIV/AIDS). That’s hard to find. Usually if a doctor is a specialist he doesn’t do general practice. He’s at the Beechwood Clinic. When his contract is up I asked him if I could still be his patient. He said, ‘Sure!’ I’m really happy about that. It’s the only reason I stay in this city.

Chris said, “I went to the clinic today. They had me in one of those paper gowns. They were saying, move this way, move that way. How does this feel? I said, ‘It feels drafty.’ I guess I’m too old to be modest.

Chuck said, “Well, I’m homeless again. My landlord chucked me out. I slept at Bearded Bruce’s last night.” He threw an empty beer can toward the fence. He meant it to go over, but it was blocked by some branches. “I guess I’m going to have to get up for that. No wait, here comes Jake. He can throw it over for me.”

Jake kicked the can under the fence rail. “Somebody’s going to be able to get a dollar twenty from what’s down there.”

I asked Chuck, “Did Bruce cook a big breakfast. He mentioned yesterday that he was having a lot of people over.”

“Bruce always cooks a big breakfast. It may be at three in the afternoon, but it’s always big. Yesterday, we had chicken, steak, eggs and some leftovers he had in the fridge.”

Shark asked, “Chuck, why were you evicted. You’ve only been in that place a couple of months.”

“I guess I’m too picky. I wanted him to fix the window and get rid of the bed bugs. Then my stove blew up, twice. Then my hot water heater blew up. The basement was full of water. I didn’t care about that, but I had no hot water. He walked around my apartment and asked, ‘How did you manage to break these appliances?’ as if it were my fault. I said to him, ‘What the fuck do you think I did, go around stabbing them with a knife? The element had a bubble in it. When I turned it on it exploded. That’s what happens.’ I said, ‘I don’t like you coming around here. I’ll see you when I hand you my rent and when you come to fix things. Apart from that, I don’t want to see you.’

“I asked him, ‘How would you like to see your daughter living like this, or your son? Would you live here?’ He didn’t like that. I got an eviction notice in the mail. I said to myself, Okay, you don’t get any more rent from me. I stiffed him for two months. I was paying eight hundred a month.

“I’ve been on the waiting list for housing for five years.  All my friends, Frank, Joy, Andre and Sparky all have places. I must be doing something wrong. Maybe I need to get a psychiatric evaluation. That might speed things up.

“Shark, you’ve got a nice place. It’s just like Las Vegas.”

“Yeah, we got a good deal. We’re paying eleven hundred for two bedrooms. We’re above a store. We’ve got nobody on either side, just the way I like it. The only problem is the bed bugs. I had a nice couch that I had to get rid of. We’ve calked all the seams, but they’re in the walls.”

Chuck said, “I was panning yesterday for  four hours and I only made eight dollars.”

I said, “Shakes mentioned that he only made two.”

Chuck said, “I know. With that two dollars he bought a beer from me. He was slow in paying up, too. I had to keep reminding him, ‘Shakes you wanted the beer, now you owe me two bucks.’ I’d have to go out panning to make that up. He could do the same.”

Chris and Shark were comparing their Maple Leaf hockey caps.  Chris said, “Yours is a different color blue.”

“I’ve only had this one season,” said Shark.

“I’ve had mine for three. I washed it once, but I still can’t get the stains out.  I paid twenty bucks for this, but I bet I’ve made hundreds. I do really well when the Leafs are in town playing the Senators. A guy offered me twenty for it and a Senators cap, but I said no way.”

Jake walked away towards the bridge where he ‘worked’. Shark packed up and said he was heading home. Chuck loaded his backpack and sleeping bag. That left Chris. I left to go back to work.

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