Calgary and the Homeless

Diogenes's picture

I'm from Calgary, lived there almost 47 years. I subscribed to the Calgary Herald for many of those years. Now, even though I live in another country, I can read the news back home in the Herald or the Globe & Mail, the National Post or even the Edmonton Journal, using the miracle of the internet. The other "papers" offer better reporting and it's free.

The memory is a bit fuzzy because it was many years ago, but it was in a Calgary Herald editorial that I first saw the terms poverty/homeless/food bank (can't remember which) and growth industry used in the same sentence. homeless2 (52K) It was a clever but cynical turn of phrase, calling into question the motivations of some bleeding heart liberal attempt to advance socialism in this part of the country.

More recently, in May or June of 2008, the Herald reported on a one-night spot survey of the homeless in the Calgary inner-city area. This did not include any using the emergency shelters that night, either because they were refused, or preferred not to stay there. These were people out in the streets, under bridges, or in stairwells.

I think the number found and surveyed was around 350. This is a big number, but not surprising if you live in Calgary. You see homeless people in many places but the density increases as you approach the city center. What was more shocking was that 40% of these people surveyed had jobs.

Fast forward to yesterday. Here are four more media stories/columns, 3 from the Calgary Herald and one from the National Post, that inspired this blog.

Alberta's $3.3-billion homelessness plan could backfire, say watchdogs

steady eddy

Premier Ed Stelmach had this vision some time back of how to deal with the homeless. It is a tough problem. It will take 10 years. A 10 year plan is being implemented. Ten year plans are expensive and this one comes in at $3,300,000,000. Count the zeros. It's almost as much as this month's plan to bail out the car industry.

The watchdogs quoted in the article are mainly lapdogs of the business lobby. Danielle Smith, who has distinguished herself as one of the few politicans in Canada to have been fired with cause, is hardly an economist. But she is quoted...

Because of the tender economic climate we have, you may want to push out the plan by one or two years," she said. "It doesn't make sense to borrow or invest in this kind of construction right now.

Roger Gibbons of the CanWest Foundation, questions the wisdom of building critical housing infrastructure at a time when the residential construction industry has collapsed and thousands of skilled tradesmans are unemployed. He invokes this crazy "Field Of Dreams" logic - "Build it and they will come" to argue against the plan.

This noble attempt at predicting the past might qualify you in some circles as being an economist, but if Canada West is paying you to be their spokesperson, you might start to focus on the value for money question.

Trailer park trash can be as insightful as this, and their opinions are free.

Calgary officers not guilty of beating homeless man, court finds

calgarys Finest

I have lived in Calgary long enough to know that the police union, when they can't dodge a bullet by doing an internal investigation, hires the best legal talent money can buy to defend their own. The judges decision here has been widely questioned and so has the law. But that's the way it works in Calgary.

In searching the net for information on homelessness in Calgary, I came across this page that really shocked me. Calgary's rate of violence against homeless people is higher than any American city that has done a similar survey.

Kanis has travelled to eight cities across the U. S. and Canada - including Calgary - to help officials conduct the surveys.

We've done 4,300 surveys in Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Nashville and Washington, D. C., she said. It's darn near close to twice the rate found in other places.

Crime and violence in Calgary is also a big concern now, but that is a topic for another blog altogether.

Our last Calgary Herald story has nothing to do with the homeless. It is simply serves as background color.

Bush's first speech as ex-president well received in Calgary

Recently some 2000 people paid $400 each for a rubber chicken dinner in Calgary featuring bushInCalgary former US president George Bush, a few millionaire bank CEO's, and a few billionaire establishment types chuckle it up about how Canada's bank regulation is less drunk than the one in the US.

Of the economic meltdown, Bush said, "Wall Street was drunk and we got the hangover." He told McKenna: "It seems like your banking system was more sober than ours."

"We like to drink," McKenna said.

"Not the whole bottle," Bush replied.

I am willing to beat a case of beer that at least one of so called economists so worthy of being quoting in the Herald was in attendance.

And now for the comments

What is most disturbing of all is some of the comments that appear after these articles have been published. If any Calgarian is puzzled why their city is viewed as the "Red Neck Capital of Canada", look no further than some of the commets posted with these articles. An example...

just for the record, I don't want them in my back yard either!! You are right, maybe I just don't care or want to deal with them. I've worked hard all my life to take that attitude only to see my tax dollars going to support some loser who can't be bothered to lift a finger and yet they will get a roof over their head. Sure my roof might be nicer than their roof, but i f-ing earned it!! Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part these people are leaches, I do feel sorry for the legitimate homeless, but hey, I think 7-11 might be hiring

Sadly many of these who have "f-ing earned it!!" only see the world through annual all-you-can-drink vacations in Mexico and "Nancy Grace" shouting late breaking criminal stories on a 60" flatscreen TV.

Calgary has more visibly homeless people than any major city I know or have visited, excepting maybe India. Even in in South Africa, you are allowed to erect a township. In Calgary, the police would kick it down, fence it off, and attempt fine you for breaking some zoning bylaws.

I have travelled Calgary's pathways extensively on my bike. Starting from downtown on a sunny summer morning, heading east, within 20 minutes you will probably see 100 homeless people sleeping in the parks. It gets better though as you travel further out.

By the time you reach Fish Creek or Nose Hill, you will have travelled by at least 1,000 two story, 3000+ sq. ft., double car attached garage homes, lots of which have fewer occupants than cars, and some that are occupied only 8 months a year. Calgary winters can be a drag, you know.

"Housing first" homeless strategy won't work for Alberta… or anywhere


We close off with a honorable mention to Lorne Gunter, probably the most right wing of columnists on the National Post's payroll. Take a deep breath here if you have any left leaning tendencies. He wrote this amazing blog with opening and closing lines that offer a slick demonstration of how facts don't need to get in the way of a narrow small minded point of view.

Mr. Gunter mentions Housing First in his blog, but forgets to mention anything about the program, originally developed in 1992 in New York to deal with that city's homeless problem. It was so successful, achieving something like an 85% reduction in 3 years, that it has become a bit of a movement. He closes off his blog with this beauty...

But if you are going to start by asking for $3-billion for housing first, you may as well be asking for $3-billion for happy-face stickers. That will do just as much good.

Conrad Black must be proud there are others now that are willing and able to carry on his mission of shredding the social safety hammock.

I'm confident that Calgary can achieve the 87% reduction in homelessness that New York city accomplished in 3 years. We might even do better. After all, we have 10 years to do it, so that leaves us 7 years to plan and debate the issue.

I know some will hate me for this, but it is becoming embarrassing to say "I'm from Calgary" and "I'm a Canadian.". Calgary has really changed over 47 years. That doesn't mean that it got better. And that doesn't mean that it can't.