Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get Mad Like A Canadian


I stumbled across something on the Homeless People's Network tonight from Canadian health nurse Cathy Crowe on how Philip Mangano is spreading the Ten Year Plan gospel up north, much to the annoyance of those who wonder where America gets off telling anyone how to solve their housing problems. Others in Canada, however, are predictably receptive to his message.
While Canadian cities are looking at the Bush administration's approach to homelessness, the fact that the Bush administration is cutting funding to housing seems lost on Mangano's Canadian hosts. American homeless advocacy organizations in the US such as the National Coalition for the Homeless report this decade as being worse than the Great Depression for homeless people. In addition, the United States is increasingly relying on what has been dubbed "Weapons of Mass Displacement" - policies and funding decisions that limit necessary life-saving supports and spaces for people who are homeless. For example "no-feeding laws" in some American parks, increased policing and ticketing measures in downtown cores, street sweeps, removing public benches, closing public parks at night, using public works trucks to hose sleeping people down, fingerprinting homeless people who use certain shelters, all practices that create further hardships and worsen displacement.

As my friend and documentary filmmaker Laura Sky notes, "Mangano is charismatic and compelling in naming our own collective wish - a home for every resident. At the same time, his solutions are part and parcel of the conservative federal, provincial and municipal policies that brought us the problems we're experiencing right now. The mantra of those policies is: cut services, they're inefficient; cut supports, they're too expensive; eliminate shelters, they're a blight on our cities. We need housing instead, the argument goes - at the expense of support for those who will be swept into that housing. All this without addressing the economic and social conditions, which create the need for shelters.
Crowe is a founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, "a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti-poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community" who have declared homelessness a "national disaster" and advocate what they call the 1% solution. It has a kind of simple elegance. All levels of government, they say, "should dedicate another %1 of their budgets to housing. In Canada, this would be another $2B federally and $2B locally each year.

One place that money could come from, of course, is the military. This is where, despite their freezing fucking weather and their weird devotion to the Queen, I could be content to call myself Canadian. "The Federal government will allot 8.5% ($18.2 billion) of its budget in 2007-2008 to the military. Money is now flowing towards the military at a rate 69% higher than 10 years ago."

Wow. $18.2 billion. This is why the 2002 friendly fire incident — where American bombs killed four Canadian soldiers while wounding Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai — wiped out about half the Canadian military. By comparison, the cost of the US war in Iraq alone is up over $547 billion.

Canada now spends 8.5% of their federal budget on the military. Outrageous. Here, in the heart of the decaying empire, it's more like 54%.

And yet, somehow, Mangano gets to walk around pretending that this isn't a problem for housing, because, after all, it's the responsibility of the localities to get the resources. He's just the vision guy. It's just assumed that the feds are tapped out, and that challenging the war economy is somehow off limits to all right-thinking people. We Americans are good at compartmentalizing.

Maybe, in ignoring that big sucking sound emanating from the Pentagon, people think they're being patriotic or something. Support the war. Screw the people (and their kids, and their kids' kids, and the Iraqi kids too. Why not?).

More and more, I think that the movement for economic justice must grow to drive the movement to end the war. It's the only way we win. This unbelievably misbegotten war is tolerated because, for most of us, it's invisible. But growing poverty, inequality, economic vulnerability, and homelessness are right under our noses everyday. Things are falling apart, and we know where the money's going. It's hardly a great leap of logic to make the connection. And yet, we continually fail to do so.

Learn from the Canadians. They're not nearly as nuts as we are.

3 comments:

Mark p.s. said...

You are doing the grass is greener on the other side of the fence bit. We Canadians are made of the same stuff human beings are made of everywhere, and just as crazy and stupid, sorry to say.

Mark 2 said...

I have to disagree. We were just up in B.C., driving across the province on the beautiful Crow's Nest Highway, and the people up there were very friendly, very open, very welcoming. Every time the road zagged close to the border, I got vaguely uneasy, as if Dubya's long tentacles were going to snake out and drag us back across. The human stock may be the same, but the average Canadian citizen has not suffered the gov'ment and corporate abuse that we have in the US, and it's starting to turn some of us mean who didn't used to be. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

If Mangano went to Canada, I would like the border guard who let him back into the USA brought up on charges.