Why are mittens and soup so superior to affordable and social housing?

This is an addendum to my last post. Please Share.

So, in my last post I defended Ronna-Rae Leonard, NDP candidate for the riding of Courtenay-Comox, against ridiculous and scurrilous partisan attacks published in The Comox Valley Record by people clearly associated with the Liberal campaign in that riding. I wasn’t wrong in doing that, but then I thought about it again and realized there was just something not quite right about my approach because the letters to the editor by Clancy and Murray were right in a sense and I hadn’t really addressed clearly why and how they were right. During a wakeful period last night I finally put it all together and figured out what the issues really were (and are).

According to the letters to the editor by Clancy and Murray, Ronna-Rae’s failing was that she, or rather the Comox Valley Housing Task Force that she chaired, “didn’t provide one pair of mittens, bowl of soup, pair of socks or shelter for one needy or homeless person.” (this quote is from Murray’s letter in the May 4th edition of The Record). Well, that’s true. And there’s a good reason for that.

Charity does not solve the problems of homelessness and poverty. It perpetuates them. Over the last decade or so municipalities all over North America have come to realize that and have moved to an entirely different way of tackling the homelessness issue. It’s called Housing First. I’ll get back to that, but for the moment I need to address the issue of charity.

So what’s so appealing about charity? Why is charity so important to Murray? Well, to put it simply, charity is about the giver and not the receiver. According to Christian morality, a morality that’s infused in all of our culture whether we believe or not, charity is a way of buying our way into heaven or in secular terms it’s a way of making us feel better, a way of dealing with our guilt. This is all very complicated and requires a whole other blog post. For now, suffice it to say that charity by way of soup kitchens and shelters is fine because soup kitchens and shelters provide givers with a place to give and feel good about it. Affordable, supportive housing doesn’t do that at all so, for some people, it’s useless. The implication is that the poor are morally corrupt. We don’t want to provide them with too much help because they are responsible for their own misfortune. Mittens and soup are as far as we want to go in helping out.

I concluded some time ago after years of research that the solution to homelessness and a lot of its related consequences in mental illness, drug abuse and alienation lies not in charity but rather in a program called Housing First (Google it) that puts homeless residents in homes first where they can experience some security and peace and where they can work on their personal issues in safety with support from health professionals as needed. I’m sure Ronna-Rae Leonard agrees with me in this. Of course, in the Valley there is a huge shortage of affordable housing making the Housing First model difficult to implement.

The reality is that charity costs a lot of money. The Salvation Army Pidcock House is not cheap to operate and receives some public money. Hundreds of hours of volunteer time go into providing meals for the homeless at Saint George’s church. From what I know, most, if not all, Maple Pool residents receive government subsidies in the form of social assistance. It’s my understanding that the housing allowance of $375 per month they receive goes to the operators of Maple Pool. Hypothetically, if there are 50 residents in the Maple Pool campground that amounts to $18,750 per month. That’s money that essentially keeps residents in substandard, unsafe and unsanitary conditions with little in the way of support for addiction or mental health issues. I swear that if I had to live in conditions like those at Maple Pool I’d want to get drunk or stoned every day. What other means of escape are there? You tell me. The cost to the health system of dealing with the homeless is very high. We know that Housing First substantially reduces those costs.

As I noted above, one of the major problems we are experiencing these days is the fact that there is precious little affordable housing available in the Valley. It’s a crisis according to many front line social workers. Shelters and soup kitchens aren’t going to do anything to alleviate that problem. Because the market has not been able to build affordable housing, it’s up to the federal, provincial and municipal governments to step in and do it. We need all kinds of housing in the Valley, not just fancy, single family homes for the relatively well to do. We need affordable, supportive housing and we need it now. If we don’t do it, the cost to all of us will soon be overwhelming with social unrest, increasing crime and poor health taking more and more effort and money to manage.

People who advocate charity over supportive housing just haven’t thought the problem through carefully enough. Maybe it’s time to get serious about real solutions and not just perpetuate ways to allow charitable givers a vehicle to feel good and buy their way into heaven.

Ronna-Rae Leonard, local NDP candidate, unjustly slammed by her political foes.

This blog post is for residents of the Comox Valley. Please SHARE! Yes it’s long, but please read it to the end. 

Below is a letter I sent to the publisher of the Comox Valley Record last week in response to a letter published in an earlier edition by Dick Clancy, a close associate of our last Conservative MP John Duncan and reputedly now associated with the Liberal campaign although, I admit, I don’t know him personally nor much about him. However, his political affiliations and his letter (see it here) don’t leave much doubt about his political leanings. To suggest that Ronna-Rae would want the residents of Maple Pool thrown out onto the streets is ludicrous and insulting in the extreme.

My letter was not published. I don’t know why, but I think it’s worth publishing myself here because I just can’t sit by and do nothing knowing Ronna-Rae and what she stands for, her integrity and commitment to social housing. I’m quite certain I know where the truth lies and it’s not in Clancy’s letter.

Here’s my letter:

To the editor, Comox Valley Record.

I read with interest the letter in your April 25th edition by Dick Clancy. He’s pretty coy is Mr. Clancy for a person who says everyone running in the election agrees that this should be a ‘transparent’ campaign. If he really believes in transparency, he should declare up front which candidate and party he supports in the election because his letter looks like an attempt to smear the NDP candidate. It looks a lot like a political hatchet job. Come on, Mr. Clancy, tell us who you’ll be voting for so we can judge your letter for what it is.

I will tell you up front that I am voting NDP in the coming provincial election. I would vote for Ronna-Rae Leonard, but I don’t live in her riding. I will be voting for Scott Fraser.

I don’t blame Mr. Clancy for being partisan, I am. I do blame him for hiding behind a call for transparency in order to suggest that Ronna-Rae Leonard would want the residents of Maple Pool thrown into the streets. That is a patently absurd accusation. I worked with Ms. Leonard on the Housing Task Force here in the Valley before its mandate expired about 4 years ago. Ronna-Rae Leonard has worked tirelessly over the years on behalf of homeless residents of the Valley.

In my opinion, it’s people like Dick Clancy and Larry Jangula who have blocked the construction of decent affordable and supportive housing in the Valley, not Ronna-Rae Leonard.

The in-camera council votes don’t tell the whole story. Frankly, I’d love to see an independent inquiry into exactly why Maple Pool continues to exist and why there hasn’t been any supportive and affordable housing built in the Valley for decades.

Roger Albert

Cumberland, BC

On May 2nd The Comox Valley Record published a letter by Fredrick Smith challenging Clancy. It was fine but somewhat off topic in my mind. It didn’t challenge to snide innuendo in Clancy’s letter about Ronna-Rae wanting to throw Maple Pool residents out on the street as evidenced by her in-camera Courtenay Council votes on a lawsuit around Maple Pool.

On May 4th, The Comox Valley Record published a letter by Irene Murray full of innuendo and attacks on Ronna-Rae, attacks which are groundless and based on political ideology. It’s true that the Housing Task Force had limited success. I know. I sat on one of its committees and was paid to write a report on what municipalities can do to encourage affordable housing in the Valley.

There are some people in the Valley who are fine with giving poor people charity (soup and mittens) but not with providing them with adequate, safe housing. Every community around us (Campbell River, Port Alberni and Nanaimo) have built affordable social housing. The Comox Valley is alone in not doing so. I can assure you that’s not Ronna-Rae’s fault.

The Wealthy Need The Poor

Just a quick note to start off the day. The title says it all. The wealthy need the poor. In fact, it doesn’t matter who ends up poor, it just matters that many people do. I mean, who can know if someone is wealthy if there are no poor people around to compare them to? No, poor people are essential to the wealthy for many reasons. First, they make a great cautionary tale, as in, “see what can happen to you, my child if you don’t put your nose to the grindstone, work hard, aspire to the things that make us rich and believe in free entreprise, because mygawd it’s our way to glory and eternity.” Of course, in the same vein, they are also a great example of how not to live your life. “Those people have made a poor choice in parents. You’ve at least started life not making that mistake!” They are also a great source of cheap labour and can’t save any money so everything they make goes right back into the hands of business. What a great setup.

Actually, it’s  really quite simple. We live in a class society no matter how much we attempt to deny it. Wealth and poverty are a consequence of that, not the cause. So we have rich and poor people as an inevitable consequence of the way our society has evolved. Wealth is a major moral goal so poverty must be a major moral failure. So we merrily blame the poor for their circumstances and for all the ills of the world. We don’t have the good sense to see who and what are really to blame.

Strangely enough, there is no such thing as ‘capitalism’, which is a word that would describe a system of wealth accumulation that can be compared to the evil isms, socialism and communism. Capitalism is an a-historical concept that fails to take history into account. Capital accumulation and the rapid concentration of wealth in finance capital will come to an end. What will come after? I have some sense of that in very broad terms but that’s the subject of another post.

The Dorm

When I was twelve years old my parents sent me away to boarding school in Edmonton. It was at great sacrifice for them and for the family because with my many siblings needing attention and money spent on them, investing as much as they did in me was surely a hardship. The parish paid for my tuition and that sort of thing, but my parents still had to dish out lots of cash for my expenses like hockey equipment, clothes, outings and sundry other things. Attending Collège St-Jean was a privilege because I got a very good classical education in French and English and I can still speak French more or less fluently to this day because of it. I doubt if I would have gone to university later without this early experience.

I was a student at the Collège St-Jean on the south side of Edmonton for 4 years starting in 1959. I went for a fifth year but couldn’t handle it and came home after a couple of weeks. I was a bit of a psychological mess. I’m sure I badgered my parents to attend this boarding school over a thousand kilometres from home because all of my friends were going too. In fact, there were 40 of us boys from BC attending the College in the early 60s. As I said, it was a privilege attending the College, but it was not all fun and games. The testosterone alone was choking as was the odor in the dorm. We played a lot of sports and not all of us were careful with our personal grooming…and that’s putting it gently.

The first 2 years I attended the College I slept in a dorm with 124 other guys 12 to 15 years of age. Five rows of bunk beds were the main feature of this building along with a narrow washroom/shower room containing probably 5 or 6 shower stalls and as many toilets along with a whole row of sinks where we would wash, brush our teeth and admire ourselves in the mirrors. This is  how I remember the dorm:

Dorm

This is how I remember my relationship with the priests who ran the school:

Blue me.jpg

Well, that’s a little unfair because some of the priests at the College were caring and respectful men. Some were less so and some were downright violent, not that my friends and I didn’t deserve a little chastisement from time to time. In fact, at times we were not the best examples of good behaviour. In fact, we were often little shits. I won’t go into detail but I’m sure we deserved any punishment we got.

It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to look back on my College days with some degree of objectivity. It was a very emotional time but that’s the way it is for teens.

 

 

The Trouble with Wealth

We all want to lead the good life, but what does ‘the good life’ mean? In our world it means to live a life in comfort, economic and physical security and good health. It means being a moral person. It’s hardly ever pointed out, but being a moral person in our world generally means conforming to the ideals and goals of a market economy within a system of private entreprise and possessive individualism. Morality, although it’s often thought of as a set of abstract principles detached from everyday life, is actually determined by the dominant socio-economic structures of our society. Being a ‘good’ citizen is, undoubtedly, an aspect of being a moral person, but most of us never give a second thought to the role that nations have played in our history or what roles they play in our lives now. Countries or nation-states like Canada, the US, Spain and France, are political structures that support private entreprise and that nominally employ a representative form of government that is generally believed to be democratic. I would argue that the states I mentioned above as examples are not democratic in their essence and do not act in the interests of their populations except in rare circumstances and often tangentially at that. Of course, their main objective is to convince you that they do act in your interests. Most of us believe it because we have no knowledge basis to think otherwise.

We’ve been convinced that the key to leading a good life is to get a ‘good’ job, work hard, be frugal and buy things, as many things as possible because they are often what give our lives meaning. I’ve written about this before. Do a search of my archives. I don’t want to get sidetracked here, so I’ll move on. Suffice it to say that one major ideal in our world is the achievement of prosperity with includes good health and enough wealth to lead a comfortable, secure life.

So, what are the social consequences of the drive to achieve prosperity, especially from the perspective of those who have it? Well, the achievement of a certain level of prosperity and wealth is a major moral imperative in our world. So, if you have prosperity, you are a moral person. If you don’t, if you’re poor or somehow lacking in the trappings of wealth, you are an immoral person. It’s really just as simple as that. Yes, there are exceptions and not all of us, by any means, buy into this ideology. What I am arguing is that most of our social institutions are geared to supporting private entreprise, the pursuit of wealth, and possessive individualism. So, for example, our governments are set up to treat the poor, the homeless and those with marginal physical and mental health with disdain and as objects of derision and opprobrium. Being poor carries with it shame and guilt because a person’s poverty is a clear sign of their immorality, of their incapacity to achieve the prosperity to which we all aspire. We rub people’s noses in their poverty at all possible turns.

Human life, in our world, has little intrinsic value. The value of human life is contingent on how productive we are, how prosperous we are, how clever and smart we are. Unfortunately, those qualities are much more easily achieved for some of us than for others. We do not have equal opportunity. Racist exclusion, the marginalization of women and generational inheritance of advantage all play a role in how we ‘end up’ in life.

I’m not saying that individuals have no responsibility for how they ‘end up’. They do. But the structures of our society militate against certain groups of people making them immoral even before they attempt anything. From a start of immorality, it’s very difficult if not impossible to achieve the moral objectives of prosperity and wealth.

Of course, this is all very complex. We can discuss that if you like, but, essentially, the one thought I want to convey here is the idea that poverty in our world equals immorality. So much of how we organize the world and think of ourselves and our neighbours stems from that basic principle.

Trump and protectionism

This is just a short blog that is a reaction to a CBC radio interview this morning with a representative of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association (CMEA). The interviewer asked the rep from the CMEA how Trump’s presidency would affect Canadian manufacturers. His reply was that Canadian manufacturers are worried, but that Trump’s rhetoric is just that, rhetoric designed to appeal to particular gullible and self-interested audiences, and fact is something else. He said that if the US imposes tariffs on Canadian goods, then Canada should do the same with regard to American goods.

Problem is, there is a basic flaw in this perspective. Canada produces nothing. The US produces nothing. Corporations, sometimes registered in one country or another, produce things and services for sale. People produce things, not countries so why do economists and journalists still insist on using the country as their primary unit of analysis? When are they going to stop saying that Canada’s trade with the US is this and that, rather than focusing on the real situation which is that corporations are dominant and manipulate governments for their own interests? Ironically, many ‘Canadian’ manufacturers have their products produced in China or in other countries that provide them with tax breaks, lax labour and environmental laws, and cheap labour in export processing zones. And just because a corporation has a head office in Toronto and is technically a Canadian corporation that doesn’t mean that its prime motivator is to serve Canada as a country. No, its prime motivator is profit and as long as a Canadian head office serves its interests that’s fine, the moment it doesn’t do that anymore, its ‘loyalty’ will dissolve as quickly as salt in water and it will move its head office elsewhere. More to the point, of course, is that much of ‘Canadian’ manufacturing is controlled from abroad. That led Harold Innis (Google him) to note in the late 1940s that Canada is a country with its brains spread all over the globe.

Economists and journalists need to give their head a shake and stop letting corporate capital and its governmental lackeys lead them around by the nose.

 

My death

I’ve been thinking a lot about my death lately. I know most people would not approve of this seemingly morbid preoccupation but I find it keeps me focussed on my life and what I have left of it.

Speaking of death goes against a most important moral precept we have, one of our most cherished ideals: health. A focus on health along with wealth and happiness is supposed to keep us in a good mental state and thinking positively about our lives and our activities. Given our obsession with health, it’s not surprising that we don’t want to hear about death. Death is the ultimate failure of health, now isn’t it? We seem to love to speak about our healthy lifestyles and post comments on Facebook about our healthy diets. We are constantly bombarded with ads and opinions about how to stay healthy. We are admonished for not eating healthily, drinking too much booze or engaging in activities that could ‘damage’ our health.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against being healthy. I’m just saying that it’s immoral in a world that glorifies health to be unhealthy. Now before you go off telling me I’m full of crap, think about it. Think of how we speak in hushed tones when someone is found to be ill and the words we speak to the relatives of the sick and ailing. Think of how we are uncomfortable around people who are obviously ailing or seriously ill. We equate illness with weakness and mygawd we must stay strong!

Disease and death as Ernest Becker so eloquently put it are “the two principle evils of the human organismic condition. Disease defeats the joys of prosperity while one is alive, and death cuts prosperity off coldly.” (EFE, page 3)

So, why do I think about my death? Why do I anticipate the moment of my last breath? Well, I know my death is tomorrow. I was 20 years old yesterday although I’m now 70, so how far down the road can my death be? It will be on me in a moment just as old age has come in a blistering flash. Time truly does fly. So, in thinking about my death, I give my life some meaning, some urgency. Life and death are one in the same thing. One cannot exist without the other so in denying death we are denying a crucial part of what makes us alive.

Our denial of death is a great cultural conspiracy to keep us feeling guilty and to keep us in line, conforming to the moral ideals that rule our world. Yes, like most animals, we have a primordial will to live, but unlike most animals we have wreaked havoc on the world in our ill-fated attempts at guaranteeing our immortality. Anyone who dares oppose our chosen path to immortality beware because you will soon be targets of our wrath.

Tomorrow I tackle morality and wealth. If you’re poor you might as well be dead in our world.