It’s been over a week since I met Greg at The Sanctuary. I said I was going to email him a response to our conversation, but I haven’t yet. I’ve tried to write one. I’ve started a couple of times but it didn’t seem like the considered response I want to send. I guess I’ve still been processing what we spoke about.
I know that I want to listen rather than tell. So maybe that’s what’s been happening – I’ve been listening on the ether. It seems challenging to consider an issue from a strategy perspective – asking what’s at the root of it all? Especially when you know the pressures a person is under just dealing with the day to day – the actions, not the theories that might work, but never seem to.
I came across this quote on Monday;
The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.
Can you imagine waking up each day and looking in the mirror and saying to yourself? – The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. Going to work and saying it to your colleagues, or to your classmates at school, or when you’re looking to buy a house or rent a room or tax your billionaire citizens 99% of their income or introducing a unity income – or maybe we could call it a diversity income (basic income is such a terrible moniker) – and saying The challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. Not parroting it, not saying it like the automated way we say Hey how are you? – but saying it with real meaning, with our whole heart.
Civilisation took a leap with that reminder that the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.
We’re introducing a liveable unity income because the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers. We ended homelessness because the challenge of human existence is to be unconditional lovers.
Last Friday, February the 15th, I had just bought a coffee at the St Lawrence Market, found a free table, and there was a copy of Now Magazine on it face up. I haven’t read Now Magazine for months – although people do say it is an alternative voice. If it had been one of those 10 Best Tacos in TO – or some similar inane headline, I would have folded it up and set it aside – or maybe used it as a makeshift tablecloth. But the headline was: Crisis? What Crisis? Toronto Abandons Its Homeless People.
I sat down and opened up the paper which randomly happened to be page 9 and the headline Hiding In Plain Sight and then I saw By Greg Cook – and I was like – Greg! I’ve known Greg for 8 years – we run into each other from time to time – I just saw him in Kensington Market in January after – what – 18 months? So I read the article twice, and the accompanying ones on the subject of homelessness in Toronto by other writers. I had to pause to reflect.
On Tuesday, I went to see Greg at The Sanctuary Mission on Charles Street. When I saw him in January he’d said stop by, so Tuesday was the day, around noon, just before the lunch sitting. I told him the story I’ve just shared with you – that it was as if I was supposed to read his story. And I suppose I also wanted to make some sense of it. To ask him – what should we do? It’s not like it’s a new story of course, but when you read something from somebody you’ve known for years – it touches you in a way that maybe an article by someone you don’t know doesn’t.
In particular, I wanted to ask him about the closing paragraph: “Toronto needs a housing plan that ensures the building of thousands of units for people who need them the most.” “Anything less will mean more needless suffering and death.” So, I wondered. Toronto doesn’t have a Housing plan?
Greg explained about how housing plans had waned – first on the federal level in the 1980s, then provincially in the 1990s, leaving the city to deal with non-market type housing – which it apparently doesn’t have the finances and tax raising capability to do.
Though the Federal government have announced new initiatives, these haven’t come down the pipeline yet – and meanwhile, publically owned land close to TTC stations – the best opportunity for social and affordable housing – are being eyed up for more private development. How is that even possible? I enquired. How could City Planners be involved in such a thing when its so obvious that we have a homeless crisis, a housing crisis? – and not just for the lower classes, but increasingly, as Greg pointed out to me, the middle classes, and millennials.
What is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good –
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
We spoke about the situation for a few minutes. But the so called rich people – they’re suffering too, I said. They’ve lost their hearts, their humanity. Greg pointed out that though that was the case, the suffering – or the price being paid for it – was falling disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable. I told him I’d think it over and email him a response.
I cycled down to the City Hall branch where a copy was available. I didn’t notice the birds but Nathan Phillips Square was looking pretty desolate. A city worker was throwing salt on the vast swathes of concrete. I noticed my bike really needs a wash as I parked it on solid ice by the bike racks – a far cry from the clean bike on all those summer mornings parking at the same spot. As I was looking for The Creative Destruction I saw another book in the same section; Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live In The New Urban America. I checked them both out.
(Here’s an extract from The Creative Destruction: “Local government, the real estate industry, large corporations and banking giants; in the game they call “production of the city”, what else is the city if not a giant machine for making money?
The consensus is so powerful that it invalidates “any alternative vision of the purpose of local government or the meaning of community.”
We are becoming nothing but consumers of an urban experience that has been entirely designed and packaged by these powerful players.”) – Sound familiar?
I’ve seen Greg out on the streets over the years – as part of his outreach work – checking in on people living out on the streets, asking them how they’re doing – if they need any help – and what’s available to them if they do. This is like survival territory – that they’re going to be okay for the next 24 to 48 hours – not a long term solution – not the breakthrough solution that’s going to radically change their circumstances for the better. That they’re going to live out the next couple of days! But can you imagine what it means – just to have that human experience of someone on the lookout for you, caring about you, and recognising you as a human being when most people just seem to have abandoned you?