Friday, December 19, 2008

Homeless Culture in Toronto

The other night while driving home from the hospital with my Dad…we came across a homeless man who came up to our window and offered to clean our windshield in -15 weather. My Dad rolled down his window and coldly told him no, and started muttering some jibberish under his breath, and I took $20 out of my pocket and gave it to him through my window. My Dad looks at me, and told me I was crazy for giving the man $20 of my hard earned money and went on this power trip. He then told me I was SUPPORTING the homeless culture in Toronto. I disagreed, I just told him I was being humane and doing my part as a human being and lending a helping hand, he then told me instead of supporting it, I should seek to put an end to the homeless culture…so… .. .

How would I tackle the issue of homelessness in Toronto?

I think that’s a premature question – after all, maybe I wouldn’t need to. One of the greatest mistakes that we as a society make is our interference with other societies, groups, and cultures. Too often, we attempt to dictate terms to people we don’t understand, and we end up causing lasting damage as a result. Perhaps these people are living on the streets. Perhaps these people are living in poverty. The bottom line is that they’re living – they’re adapting to a way of life, and they’re making it work for them. Now, let’s assume for a minute that perhaps homelessness IS a problem, and not another group, culture, way of life, or society. Let’s assume that we’re looking at this whole situation as a problem. Why don’t we just get a big yellow bus, drive through the streets of Canada’s sprawling urban Torontonian nightmare, round up all the homeless we can lay eyes on, stick them into apartments, houses, or prisons somewhere from where they can be safely integrated into our definition of Canadian society? Doesn’t that just sound like a great idea?

Of course not. You’re taking people out of an environment they’ve become accustomed to, an environment they’ve grown into, and you’re forcing them to change the entire way they live. Chances are good that as soon as you’re not looking, many of these people will revert to what we perceive as a savage, barbaric, “homeless” form. One needs to look at this group as its own culture in order to make it better, because that is what they are. They are like an indigenous people – Toronto is their home, and the way of life they have chosen is their culture. To strip them of cultural identity is possibly the worst thing you can do for these people.

One needs to step right into that culture, become a part of that culture, and attack the causes of a culture’s problems, or crises – not the effects. So, you ask, how would I attack this issue? I would hire several full-time observers – both male and female, to eliminate any possible gender bias – to observe homelessness as a culture, and identify the difficulties and the obstacles this culture is trying to overcome. My team would observe all types and all sorts of homeless individuals – males, females, the young, the old, homeless in different areas, homeless of different backgrounds, and would attempt to identify causes and effects for the everyday problems that plague these people, like drugs, sexual harassment or abuse, and violence. They would identify the causes of all of these problems – who’s distributing these drugs to homeless citizens? Who’s producing the drugs in question? Who is instigating the violence – the homeless, or Toronto citizens? Is the media perhaps, in part, responsible for the mindset or the mentality of homeless citizens, or the bias against them by ‘normal’ citizens of Toronto?I would attempt to not only integrate those on my team into homeless culture, but I would try and have a homeless individual integrate with my team, and assist my team, as an ambassador, more or less. It’s crucial not only that we understand this culture as observers, but that we understand this culture from their own point of view. This ambassador, or consultant, would be crucial when weighing pros and cons of different projects, or courses of action. We can certainly enforce rights as we see them fit, but it’s a much more prudent idea to learn the way that Toronto’s homeless see the world, learn rights as Torontonians see them, and find a way to reach compromise between the two.

Now, my team must be able to assist through projects where we can – in situations of drug abuse, sexual abuse, assault, and any number of other situations on the streets, we must be able to provide aid, but not through direct physical intervention or confrontation. We must also learn to identify the true causes of behaviors in homeless society – is the drug problem the fault of the homeless, or the fault of the interfering third-parties from mainstream society who are supplying them? Is the issue of abuse against women the fault of the men and women on the streets, or does some of it have to do with the concepts taught by the media, and mainstream society? Is the issue of assault the fault of the homeless, or is there perhaps a greater cause? We can intervene, and target the homeless themselves for the problems in their culture, but such courses of action are temporary, misdirected solutions. If we’re the ones interfering with THEIR way of life, why should they be punished for that? Why should they be punished if our culture is corrupting their society?

We must attempt to help Toronto’s homeless learn both the pros and cons of their way of life, and ours, and allow them to make the choice of which they choose for themselves. We must be able to respect them as human beings, and we must prevent ourselves from viewing them as anything less, at any costs. Assimilation and handouts are not the answer here. We cannot take away their homes, or their way of life, for to do these things would cause even more damage to individual and cultural identity. If their culture is to change, they themselves must be the authors of that change. We must provide information, and opportunity for them to change their own way of life. Why? Why stand by, and watch, while terrible things are happening on the streets? Why allow bad things to happen? Simple. If we step in as cowboy diplomats and change it for them, we band-aid a situation that will burst as soon as our team is removed. That’s unacceptable.

We must provide a base of support, and assistance, but the bulk of the work must be done by this culture, for this culture, and as we hope to learn something from them, we should treat Toronto’s homeless as equals, delegates of a new and alien culture – after all, perhaps there’s something that we’ve yet to learn from them. We were given the opportunity, from our beginnings as foragers and farmers to cavaliers and horsemen to one of the most advanced cultures in the world to learn from our own mistakes. The homeless of Toronto must learn from theirs. We must assist them in making changes that will better their culture, but we must allow them to be the authors of change.

So Dad...I hope you read this and please know that urban aesthetic, travelling, the nightlife and soccer are not the only things I am passionate about in life! :P