If you ever go into downtown Calgary you've no doubt seen what is often summed up as the homeless problem. Now this problem, quite clearly, is that people, who are just like you and I, have no home, which is to say no toaster to heat their bagels, no place to fold up their pajamas in the morning and no toothbrush holder to ensure the vertical nature of their hygiene products while they are away. And yes, there's more to it than that, it's a problem of predictability. After all, who knows what they're going to do next. And don't worry, it's okay that I call them "they" or "them" or "the homeless" because after all, they share the quite distinct and homogenizing quality of being without homes. That's enough, no?
Anyways, predictability. We all know how we're supposed to act when we're out with friends, when we're going to school or when we're shopping at the mall. We buy things and then we show off what we've bought. If that's not you then I apologize, I've yet to make your acquaintance. But that's what we do, we go around and we buy our shirts and our shoes, our bags and eyeliner, and our soccer balls and electricity. We talk with the other people we know who have their new phones or are working towards their new car or new set of bath towels. "Very nice," we say, and "keep up the good work." But them, "they," that is, well they aren't really working for any of that are they? I don't even know what it is they do. No wait, that's not true, "they" do a couple things, one of which is ask me for money. When I walk out of the bar, or down the street, or by a corner, they ask me for money. The face of that person who is doing the asking, that is the face I blindly paint across the homeless problem. Their quest for my money is what I have used to write the grand narrative of the homeless in my mind. But that's only half of it.
The other half is their ability to make me uncomfortable as I walk by them on Stephen Ave. Leering, I swear that's what they're doing. They're leering and I don't know what they're going to do next. They're not there to buy anything; they're just there. How am I supposed to know how to deal with that? If I give them money it's to placate them, to avoid the unthinkable. What is that you ask? Well . . . I haven't really thought about it. I just can't predict them, and that makes me uneasy.
I was once walking down the avenue I just mentioned when a couple of individuals, a couple of "them," started speaking to me. "Hey man," or "got any change?" "Just ignore them," a friend said. And eureka! Ignorance shone through as the beautiful answer. Like the weakening state of my physical body or the bleak prospects I have post-graduation, I would ignore the situation and hope it went away.
So of course I was quite pleased with the city's pledge to clean up the core-- get rid of the prostitutes and drug dealers, stop the homeless from sleeping on benches and making me uncomfortable, shut down the Cecil and expel its filth from our streets. But it didn't seem to end there, things that were difficult to ignore continued to arrive.
Word is there are problems with crime cropping up in Inglewood now. Their solution is to turn a bottle depot, which has been attracting criminality, in to an art gallery. Splendid! Who can say no to truth and beauty and all that? Well other than the bottle pickers I suppose, who are probably part of "them," and, as I said, are unpredictable. At any rate, I'm sure that once this new gallery is out of the news these issues will be ignorable once again. Problem solved, no?
I suppose an addendum is in order. It's not that I doubt your ability to detect the facetious tone in my writing, but that I've laced a great deal of my own, quite real, prejudices within them. And, though I'm rather hyperbolic about it in this piece, I do often wish the whole messy situation was avoidable, was ignorable. The fact is, however, that it's quite the contrary. While "cleaning up the core" is a splendid notion, the spreading out of these "problems" seems to be all that is occurring. Pushing criminals or homeless out of the city centre is not a solution, but instead leads to solutions being required in other areas. It does, however, make the situation pleasantly more ignorable. With the criminal per square kilometer lowered in the core, but remaining constant within the city as a whole, it's much easier to turn a blind eye-- but it remains equally despicable.
And there are those who work tirelessly towards solutions and who attempt to educate both you and I of our rather vile presumptions. But we're talking about people, not a faceless group, nothing remotely homogeneous, people who want the same things out of life that any of us do. Those without homes, those who break our laws, they aren't the problem, we all are. It's systematic and it requires far more than a quick fix. We need to look for ways to help everyone and a reshuffling of the deck isn't going to cut it.