Two Questions

If homelessness reduces a human being to an animal state of existence do we not have to expect animal behavior?

If a shark bites a man is the shark at fault?

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An Excerpt from Crossing Main by T J Therien

They closed down the Asylum on the outskirts of town a few years back. Would you believe they just released the patients? Just like that, people who had been institutionalized for large chunks of their lives were rubberstamped “Sane” and turned out onto the streets. It’s not like they had been cured, or anything, far from it. In fact, all their phobias and neurosis remained intact. In some cases their “Isms” were exasperated by the sudden change in their environment. For the most part, the former patients were not equipped with the skills they needed to survive in the real world. As a result most took to wandering the streets by day and sleeping on benches or in back alleys at night.

Being adjacent to the Madhouse, our sleepy little town felt the brunt when it was shut down. We were close enough in proximity that our town became a magnet for the former patients. The “Crazies,” as the townsfolk affectionately called them although some of the more eccentric earned their own little monikers like “Odd Todd” and “Slow Joe.” Really, for the most part they were harmless enough and posed no real danger. Still, nobody knew what to do about the problem. At first, police would round them up, but because they didn’t belong in jail and because there was nowhere else to keep them, once again they were just released. Homelessness became epidemic. Sure, we always had a couple of drunks and ne’er do wells, but nothing like after they closed the Mental Hospital.

So much like other callous cost cutting measures that fray the fabric of society, the powers that be gave little thought to the consequences of fiscal austerity. This should surprise nobody. Empathy and compassion are traits possessed by too few politicians and government workers. Common sense and good conscience are seldom criteria for policy, nor are they qualifiers in the decision making process. Shutting down the Mental Hospital was just a classic case of saving a few nickels and dimes at the expense of our humanity. It’s all about dollars, not sense.

Residents petitioned the politicians, first at the local level, then to the State and lastly to the Fed. Each in turn passed the buck to the next until it circled around to the first and the process began all over again. In the end nothing was done. The townsfolk gradually accepted the quirky ensemble of former patients squatting in the streets.

The good folk of our town did what good folk do, short of taking the former patients into their own homes. They did no more than they did for the drunkards and ne’er do wells. Good folk are almost always long on good intentions, but when it comes down to it, they don’t really want to get their hands dirty and people are messy, especially the mentally ill. So it fell to charity to care for these poor people and we all know the result that reaps. Instead of putting money directly to solutions Charities buy band aids with the money that’s left over after the marketing campaigns and salaries are paid. Like really, has any Charity ever cured any social ail? And so the problem persisted.

This is why no one took notice of the shabby man shuffling down the main drag with an old apple-crate tucked under his arm. Such sights had become so common-place in our sleepy little town that nobody discerned anything different from the shabby stranger and the other “Crazies.” He was just another invisible man, a stench that people sidestep to avoid the smell sticking to them. Those who did see him shot him looks of derision as he waded through the pedestrian traffic at the busiest time of the day.

An Open Letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory;

(Please insert whatever Honorific by which you wish to be addressed here.)

 

I am writing because I am shocked to learn of a new mandate for Streets to Homes workers to NOT intervene in cases of the recently homeless. Is it honestly the City’s position to strip someone of their dignity, self-respect and to deliberately put them at risk of violence, sexual assault and human trafficking before offering assistance? Because that is what this policy change does. It has come to me through the grapevine, through sources I will not name, that Streets to Homes Workers will not intervene until someone is Homeless for 3 months. Mr. Mayor this is 3 months too long.

 

This I find extremely shocking after receiving the assurances of one of your aides, ”The Mayor is working to increase shelter beds, build affordable rental housing and improve TCHC. His interest in ending homelessness is not political rehtoric and he is determined to make an impact on the issue,” Matt, Special Assistant, Office of the Mayor. His words exactly, I have not even corrected his spelling error in our correspondence.

 

Mr. Mayor, put yourself in the shoes of the recently homeless, you are new to the streets, never been there before, you got no money, no nothing. You are scared, frightened, absolutely terrified and don’t give me any macho bullshit. You can’t turn to the police for protection; they look at you like a suspect and a criminal. It doesn’t matter that you have committed no crime. Where do you honestly turn? Do you go to Maxwell Meigen where you might wake up to someone caving in your skull with a fire extinguisher? Where can you be safe? City Hall has security, but you can’t camp out there because you will get fined and chased away. What are you going to do? Someone with sinister motives reaches out to you and offers to help you, to protect you…and that is where the nightmare really begins.

 

You see, Mr. Mayor, the sooner we can intervene, the sooner we get people housed, the less repairing of those people is needed. The longer you wait to intervene means there will be a greater degree of Post-Traumatic Stress. Quicker intervention means reduced strain on an already strained medical system. Also the quicker the intervention the quicker the person returns to being a contributing member of society.

 

I’m not suggesting preference be given to the recently homeless, nor should there be preference for those who have been chronically homeless. Preference should probably start with those most wanting to remedy their situation, but at the end of the day every single homeless person needs to be housed.

 

Holding You to Your Word

 

Timothy James Therien

An Open Letter to John Tory, the City of Toronto and the People of Canada

Three people died from exposure in the city of Toronto during the winter of 1995. This led the Municipal Government to introduce some safeguards to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Fast forward to the first week of 2015 and yet again two people have died from exposure in a forty-eight hour period. Obviously the measures that the city enacted in 1996 have proved inadequate. Those measures include the opening of warming centers when the mercury drops below -15 C. What is not included in that formula is wind chill, length of exposure or whether people have adequate clothing. The people most in danger during extreme weather are the growing numbers of the city’s homeless.

Yes, I said it, the H word, Homeless. So who are the homeless? I’m sure you already have some preconceived notion of who these people are. You probably think they (the homeless) have mental health and/or addiction issues. You may be correct in your assumptions for a segment of the homeless demographic, but it is only one slice of the pie you are looking at and I would also argue in some cases that these issues developed as a result of homelessness as a coping mechanism.

But realize, a woman escaping an abusive relationship could find herself homeless, a child running away from physical, and or sexual abuse can also end up homeless, someone who has lost employment and had their Employment Insurance run out could very well find themselves on the street as the rate Welfare allocates a paltry $376 a month for housing. You can’t even find a room for that amount in this city and if you can it’s not one you would want to live in because you will have four and eight legged roommates by the thousands to keep you company.

Okay, to the point now. The problem is not how do we protect these vulnerable people during times of extreme weather. The problem is that there is Homelessness to begin with. We live in a rich country with plenty of land and resources and there just is no excuse for economic suffering. We waste Billions of dollars on frivolous things like the tens of millions spent in our Federal Government’s Economic Action Plan Ad Campaign. How far that money could have gone to housing the country’s homeless and feeding the country’s poor. These Economic Action Plan Ads really stick in my craw because it’s money essentially flushed down the toilet to tell us about programs that don’t exist when the News Media can do that same job free of cost to the government. That is what the Press Release is for. What purpose do these Action Plan Ads serve other than propaganda and lining the pockets of advertising companies that are across the border. That’s right, big fat cat advertisers in the United States get more government dollars than do the country’s impoverished.

One solution might be to require these condo developers to allocate a percentage of their units as low income housing. These company’s receive huge tax breaks and congest traffic with their projects and they don’t have any obligation other than to their stockholders. Gentrification of low income areas like Regent Park, Parkdale, among other areas is also a big reason why the ranks of homeless are growing in number, because there is no affordable housing being built to accommodate those displaced by Gentrification.

I know Politicians are going to say taxes will be raised if we tackle the issue of poverty because the money isn’t there for socialist programs. But homelessness costs more than programs that would remedy poverty. Costs associated with homelessness include staffed shelters, outreach workers, public health nurses, also healthcare as homeless people are usually not in a position to seek out preventative medicine and end up with conditions that are chronic and more costly to treat in advanced stages of an ailment. Just know, when Politicians begin their fear mongering that taxes are going to go up regardless. It is time to hold our politicians to task. It’s time Politicians start representing People and not the business interests they currently serve.

Think people, Toronto City Hall (Nathan Phillips Square) is currently undergoing a facelift that is going to cost taxpayers over $60 million and yet City Hall has been made a Park so that the homeless cannot camp out on the doorstep of the city. If there is one place the homeless should be able to camp out it should be City Hall. Sweeping the problem under the carpet isn’t going to make it go away; it’s just going to move down the street. In my opinion everyone who is Homeless should congregate en-mass on the steps of City Hall so the problem is visible and dealt with appropriately. Handing out fines to people who can’t afford to pay them doesn’t accomplish anything.

Realize that the Homeless are people to. They are mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters. They are flesh and blood and deserve the same sympathy we display for a dog that has been abandoned or abused. Realize this, it’s our Humanity that makes us Human, without our Humanity we are just animals, or worst, monsters.

I believe kindness is in our DNA and has been suppressed by this dog eat dog ideology, but in nature Dogs do not eat Dogs, so the fact we use a term like dog eat dog only goes to show how unnatural such a philosophy is. It’s time we get back to what is in our nature. We are social creatures so why should our policies not reflect that. We are caring individuals, why do we let our government represent us in any other way. I spoke earlier of the plentiful resources this country can boast of, but it’s greatest resource is the people themselves. Almost ten percent of that resource is being wasted on Poverty.

Sincerely,
T J Therien

the not so invisible problem

I have been back in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (my Hometown) for two weeks now and I have noticed Homelessness is far worse than it was when I left 12 years ago. I have taken the time to speak to several people who are living on the streets and it breaks my heart. The City has taken a hardline stance on the Homeless. They are chased off the property of City Hall. I spoke with a former politician who wished to remain nameless and he said they shouldn’t be, that they have the same right of access to public property but this is not the case.

The shelter system is not a safe environment. People are robbed and beaten in the shelters. Some of the people I have spoken to have said they feel safer on the streets than in the shelters.

A homeless person cannot lay down on a park bench or on the grass in a park without getting chased away leaving only the sidewalk so long as they don’t impede traffic.

I think it is sad that the homeless are being treated as they are and the problem only seems to be getting worse.

Yesterday I saw workers of the city outreach program speaking with a homeless person when the police showed up to chase the man away, or arrest him. It’s ridiculous that two arms of the same municipal government are not working to achieve the same goal. In fact one only seems to counteract what the other is trying to do.park bench

I point the finger of shame at my city for failing in it’s social obligation

The Chicken or the Egg

“What came first, the chicken or the egg,”
The mental illness or the homelessness?

Tell me, how many sane people
Have wound up on the streets,
Through no fault of their own,
Only to be driven mad by
Loss of dignity and looks of derision,
Sleep deprivation and hunger,
By nights below freezing,
By the drip, drip, drip of rain on the forehead,

You want to talk waterboarding?
Spare me your false outrage
When you speak about torture,
When Gitmo and Abu Ghraib
Look like the Park Plaza
To the guy shivering and starving on the corner

There’s a War going on alright
And Humanity is losing the fight

You know I’m beginning to think
It would be more humane to
Euthanize those that fall on misfortune
Than subject them to the cruel and unusual punishment
They are forced to endure at the hands of our apathy

Just remember my friend, you are one misstep,
One set of circumstance,
One twist of fate away
From joining those you sneer at and spit upon

Nobody choses to be homeless!

T J Therien

Some People just aren’t Newsworthy

I once knew a well to do Christian, a fine example of an upstanding man and a pillar of his community. In general he was a good man, but he once said something to me that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. At the time he said it, I did not know why it irritated me to the Nth degree. Now that I’m back in Toronto, I understand why what he said had upset me.

What he said, “I wish I could be among the poor people of the world.”

I can remember thinking, Buddy, you have no idea, but his intentions were good even if his pity was misguided, so I left it alone. I would normally enter a debate on this issue in a heartbeat, but that particular day I was not in the mood.

Years later, I find myself back in Toronto and I find myself reflecting on those words. You see, I’ve lived most of my life in transit, which means I move around quite a bit. It doesn’t matter what town or city you find me in, you will always find me in the worst areas, the places people warn you about. Yes I congregate with the crazies and the castoffs the rest of society wants little to do with.

Why would I put my life in peril? That is effectively what I am doing by traipsing through these neighbourhoods in the ungodly hours of the night. I do it because it is part of the Human Experience and I desire to understand this thing we call being Human. Also after pulling so many knives out of my back over the years I grown to have a preference to seeing those knives coming and if you are walking through some of the areas I have tread and you don’t see it coming then you are either deaf and blind, or you are completely ignorant of the dangers of this world.

I arrived in Toronto a little more than a week ago. After a bit of touristy stuff (it’s been 12 years since last I was here) and catching up with a couple of friends and a little walk down memory lane revisiting all those old haunts I headed straight downtown. I hang out all night and observe people, I even talk to a few, but I’m not really a social kind of guy, more a keep to myself kind of a person and I am very good at projecting a stay away from me vibe that accompanied by my rough appearance gives the wrong sort of person second thoughts about approaching me. Don’t get me wrong, I really am a friendly sort, but I am also guarded and you would be too if you had lived my life and seen the things I’ve seen.

Well yesterday I was sitting in a 24 hour MacDonald’s where they are a little bit sympathetic to the plight of the homeless. They will let the homeless sit forever inside on a single coffee if the weather is bad and even if it is not. They even permit a little bit of dozing, so long as they don’t make themselves too comfortable. So yesterday I’m sitting there and some guy OD’s in the bathroom, Paramedics and Police are called and the guy is put in an ambulance on a respirator, but that is neither here nor there, just part of the daily routine down here. This is the kind of stuff you never hear about on the News.

Anyway the point I was making, there was a diminutive woman, obviously new to the streets, you could tell by her behaviour and general skittishness. She was middle aged and did not belong with the crowd that congregates down here. This strange guy comes in, orders a coffee and sits at the table next to her. He strikes up a conversation, asking her some really personal questions. He was interrupted when another woman, who most would discard as just plain nuts, warns the diminutive woman not to go anywhere with this guy. “Fifteen women have disappeared from this area in the last month,” the crazy one warns and then she’s gone.

Another woman at the MacDonald’s (one who obviously works in one of the retail outlets grabbing breakfast before work) confirms what the crazy woman had said.

Fifteen women in thirty days have gone missing. This is not newsworthy because they were street people and prostitutes. Somehow they are less Human. These Ladies (and they are ladies, they are someone’s daughter somewhere) and their disappearance is treated as generally irrelevant. The police have stepped up their presence, but other than that very little seems to be done.

Now I know what bothered me about that fine upstanding Christian man’s words. You see, they were just that, words. He had the time and money to back those words up with action and he had the respect and credibility to help shine some light on what is really happening down here. Instead he comforts his conscious with words and a few cans for the local food drive.

You see, when most people hear about these things, (and realize, I’m talking about a small area of the city where these disappearances have occurred,) they are skeptical because they’ve heard nothing in the News about it. Well you see, some people are just not newsworthy. Street people generally are not newsworthy, even when they are disappearing. Don’t believe me, how much do you know about Canada’s Highway of Tears? These disappearances are not isolated incidences, they happen all the time, the happen in every community, small town and big city alike. There is one commonality, the targets, or more aptly, the victims come from segments of the population that are deemed irrelevant.

You think it’s not safe for you to walk on the street late at night. How do you think those that society has marginalized feel. Think about it a moment. At least the police are going to look for you if you go missing, other than a report being filed, very little gets done when a homeless person goes missing. Very little gets done when fifteen in a one month period go missing.

Men With Brooms

Security guards armed with brooms
Sweep each and every park bench clean
Of unsightly human refuse
And the garbage littering the street

“No Loitering Allowed!”

Shoes without soles, shuffling shabby feet,
Forced to move on down the road
And the soulless demand bigger brooms

You know, it’s sad when a mangy stray mutt
Is afforded more dignity and compassion
Than a human being fallen on hard times

T J Therien