by Jean Roberta
(Shudder.) In the depth of winter, in the middle of Canada, the topic of homelessness is chilling. There aren’t many visibly homeless people in the small city where I live, but is this because enough of them go to local shelters when the temperature is life-threatening, or is it because some of them actually die, and are then removed from public sight? Both these guesses are probably accurate.
My spouse, who works with people who have physical and/or mental disabilities, is occasionally disturbed to see a name she recognizes in the obituaries in the local newspaper. These are the people who fall through the cracks between helping agencies because they don’t clearly meet the criteria of any of them, and who have no relatives willing to help them. In some cases, they escape from “group homes” that feel too much like prisons.
Any able-bodied person can become “disabled” through a sudden catastrophe or the gradual passage of time. Our physical and mental abilities tend to leak away, slowly but surely.
Re the problem of desperate people without material resources, the term “conservative” seems paradoxical here in Canada. We have a tradition of collective action, especially in the agricultural Midwest, where the earliest white settlers (and before them, the aboriginal hunters who passed through) needed to co-operate because there wasn’t really a choice. Rugged individualism simply wouldn’t have worked here: to be alone and stranded was to die. So, technically, a conservative political position might support the institutions that are supposed to ensure that no one gets left out in the cold.
However, that’s not how it works. “Conservative” (as in the ruling Conservative Party, the Tories or the blues) and small-c “conservative” both seem to mean: very similar to the farthest right wing of the Republican Party (the elephant in the room, you might say) to the south of us. So the Conservatives have been defunding and dismantling public institutions since they were voted into office. This includes the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (parallel to the BBC in Britain), which has a history of exposing such trends and trying to conserve Canadian culture.
Our multi-party system (though there are really only three major parties) allows for a party with a minority of public support to get voted in, and dig in their heels. So we have a Conservative Prime Minister already running attack ads against the other two party leaders to defend himself from being ousted in the 2015 election. And meanwhile, he keeps defending slash-and-burn policies re social services, education and the arts, and tax cuts for the rich, on grounds that what doesn’t work very well in the U.S. could work brilliantly in a country where having no shelter can literally mean having no life.
Who likes the Conservatives? The corporate rich and some delusional peasants who identify with them, that's who. Apparently, they think the urban homeless can build their own igloos. I wish.