Friday, January 30, 2015

Can Igloos Be Built with Curbside Snow?

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.


  1. If the poor built urban igloos, the government would probably bulldoze them, as has been done in some US cities to "tent cities."

    I think the ultra-conservative viewpoint is that the homeless should be cared for by charitable religious organizations that people can choose to support (or not) instead of by government funded by taxpayers who get no choice. Which of course is code for "only the poor people I think are deserving should be helped," and even then not many would want to actually contribute to provide help.

  2. I saw recently about a program in Denver, (I think) where they're giving rudimentary homes to people. They've found it's cheaper to accomplish than shelters or doing nothing. It always amazes me when conservatives say they're fiscally responsible, so why is it that the only economic progress over the last thirty five years in the US has been during Democratic administrations? Republicans have repeatedly fucked the economy for everyone but a few at the top. George W. Bush led us into the 2008 disaster, and his father presided over a recession. Now the assholes are considering another Bush in 2016. Beats me.

    Oh, and yes, Hoover was a Republican too. He was there to usher in the Great Depression of the 30's. Where the fuck do they get the hubris? Isn't anyone paying attention?

  3. At times it seems that it's unfolding like the children's movie, "The Never Ending Story", when the Gmork tells Atreau, "People with out hope are easy to control. And whoever has control has the POWER.

    I believe Sacchi is right. if we built igloos the government would have them knocked down.

  4. Thanks for a quick peek into politics, Canadian-style. It's so easy to forget that there's a huge country to our north, and not all writers on-line live in the U.S.A. Also, while Canadians are usually pretty well-versed in what goes on to the south of them, Americans are woefully ignorant of any part of the world that isn't "US".

    I have a character make a joking reference to this in my newest book. He lives way up in far northern Minnesota, and jokes that when he snuck over the border into the USA, he would tell folks that he was Canadian, because most of them had no idea what that meant. He'd stress a few vowels, toss in a few mentions of some of the provinces, and folks would accept his claim. We've been up there camping, and when we told folks we were visiting from somewhere else, some asked if we were Canadian, despite all of us having what my dad used to call a "nasal Midwestern accent."

    But alas, those that "have" are the same the world over. They ignore that most of them were born on third base, and insist that those of us who aren't getting home runs, like them, just aren't trying hard enough. Some of us were born in the dug-out, and just getting to first base is hard enough.

  5. Thanks for replying, all. We're having a federal election in Canada in a few months, and you could check out the results on-line. Anyone who could possibly beat the current Prime Minister would be an improvement. There's nothing like living in a northern climate to remind a person of the importance of shelter for everyone who wasn't born covered in thick fur.

  6. I was traveling once during the GW Bush era and someone asked me if I was Canadian. (I'm actually from New England.) Embarrassed by what my own country was doing (killing Afghanis, killing Iraqis, killing its own people through neglect and lack of compassion), I said yes. This guy then started talking to me about hockey...

    The wages of dishonesty.

    You have three viable parties? Congratulations...

  7. Thanks, Lisabet. It's debatable whether we have three viable parties. We have three major parties, anyway, and a few smaller ones. A Hockey Party would prob. get a majority of the votes. :)

  8. Jean, thanks for this post. As Fiona said, it's always good to be reminded of what's going on in the large country to the north of the U.S. I really like the way you've questioned the word "conservative." It brought to mind a different issue, but I think a similar case. In Hawaii, the marriage equality debates had an interesting twist because people there tend to make appeals to traditional Hawaiian culture. The "conservative" position was that "traditional marriage" (between a man and a woman) should be preserved. The native Hawaiians, however, actually had a different social structure that didn't recognize that exact concept of "traditional marriage." The pro marriage equality party pointed out that the real "conservative" position in Hawaii would be to consider the values of the native Hawaiians, which allowed for many family arrangements that would be unfamiliar to Europeans. This sort of thing makes me wonder what exactly conservatives are trying to conserve.


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