T&O: Happy Homeless People in Canada

Let me preface this by saying that I categorically know diddlysquat about the specific realities of homelessness in Canada, and I take it as a given that the situation is far from perfect; what follows therefore are simply my PERCEPTIONS as a well traveled individual who has had the “privilege” if you can call it that of having seen poverty in many countries over the course of my 51 years.

So let me give an example. A few years ago I was driving around Shanghai China with my dad and his girlfriend. …
Well, let me back up: At that time I had been working as a professor of Marketing in South Korea for about two years, at Kyung Hee University’s Seoul campus. (Yes my PhD was in anthropology, how I got from that to marketing is a long story.) My dad, who had been a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (he passed away just over two years ago now) had been invited to China in order to give some lectures at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, and he had arranged for his girlfriend (a once upon a time professor of Hebrew Literature at Tel Aviv University — who had been working as a successful therapist for many years since) to also give a lecture, so that she could come along with him on the trip. This was right around the Jewish High Holidays, so my father decided that I should fly from Seoul to Shanghai so that we could all attend prayer services together.
….. After we’d been there a few days, we were driving around the town and my dad’s girlfriend started to talk about how impressed she was with the affluence of Shanghai. How all the apartments we had visited (both she and my dad had contacts in town) were so fancy, and our hotel (4 star) was so plush, and how everyone was wearing the latest styles of expensive designer clothing, and the expensive jewelry everyone wore (the Chinese love their bling).

To this I responded… “well that’s interesting, because I’m seeing something entirely different than you are. I see all of what you saw, but I also seem to be seeing things you are not.” She of course took offense, and asked me to explain, so I went on… “What I see are fancy apartment buildings that are surrounded not just by gates, but with 12 ft concrete walls that have barbed wire at the top with limited entrances and exits where there are guards that ‘actually guard’ (not just for show), which tells me not only is crime a major concern, but possibly even riots. And while I see people wearing bling and the latest in designer fashions, what I also see are jobs like garbage collection which in western countries would be done with garbage trucks, but here I see people doing them by hand, many of them elderly with hunched backs dragging behind them carts heavy with trash to the dumps, or recycling plants. What I see is a really horrible discrepancy between the rich and the poor, with many homeless, dirty, and miserable looking people sitting around looking unhappy. So while I saw everything you did, I also saw it not as this wonderful amazing thing, but as a problem … and those concrete walls with barbed wire? What they tell me is that the rich elites of this town are very much aware that they are sitting on a potential powder keg that could, if they are not very very careful, explode at any time.”

So… returning to the issue of Canada a few people have asked me what were my major observations of the differences between Canada and the USA… and while granted there are a few… for instance I used the go-along with that statement that EVERYONE seems to say about the Canadians, namely that ‘they’re the nicest people on the planet’… but having spent three months there I have now revived that to, ‘I wouldn’t say Canadians are Nice, so much as I’ve decided that the Canadians are incredibly polite — a bit like the Japanese’… but I’m not going to go into what I mean by that here… it’s too complicated.

What I want to talk about now is the inherent differences I observed on the streets between homelessness in Canada and the way it looks in the USA.

The poor and homeless in Canada just seem… happy, they seem healthy, they even seem, dare I say it…  peppy…

American homeless rarely if ever look any of that, and if they do they usually haven’t been homeless very long. … again, just my perception.

At one point in Victoria, I saw a girl who looked to be in her early 20’s, pretty, but with the sort of ‘dirty’ look of someone who lives on the street, who was sitting on the side of the road in the center of Victoria’s tourist district (between the historic hotel and the bay), with her puppy on her lap, trying to collect funds. So I stopped to talk to her; she started of by telling me that she was actually from Vancouver and had come over as a passenger on the ferry to visit friends (for an adult non student fair it costs just under $18 Canadian, or around $13.50 US for walk on traffic, but I’m guessing her status may have qualified her for some sort of discount). She told me that after having been here (in Victoria) for a few days that she didn’t have enough money left to go back and was just trying to collect enough funds to take the return ferry.

So, like the anthropologist I am, I sat down to ‘interview’ her about being homeless in Canada. I also wanted to bounce my perceptions off of her, to see if I was right about how much happier the homeless seemed here, and my thinking that maybe in Canada dropping out and being homeless was actually a choice people sometimes made, rather than something they were forced into by adversity. She said that she thought that was probably correct, that it was something you could just choose to do and a lot of folks did. She had not been to the US side of the border, but she had heard other kids talking about how being homeless there was categorically different, and a lot scarier. She said that in Canada she gets good health care even though she has no job (and isn’t even looking for one), and that there’s no shortage of homeless shelters that feed her well, and that sleeping in those shelters feels perfectly safe to her… 

Another day when I was walking around I passed a what I’m sure was a little group of three homeless girls, one of whom had really radical colored hair. So I talked to her and I asked her who she would suggest as someplace I could go to to get my hair done. She said that she and her friends would do it for themselves, using cheap stuff they got from the pharmacy. I told her I wasn’t into doing that and really wanted someone who could do it for me, and do it well. She pointed me towards the Aveda Beauty school that is only two blocks from my apartment saying one of the girls who they hang with from time to time, who was not in fact homeless would get it done there and was happy with the results… When I think of homeless youth who are doing things like experimenting with hairstyles, I tend to think England or Germany, i.e., other countries that also have a strong social security net (as Canada does)… not the US.

Finally, one day I had an “interesting” conversation with a homeless guy (complete with a shopping cart full of his stuff) who was all pissed off because apparently the night before he had given CPR to a fellow homeless guy who was over dosing on heroin, and he said the cops, rather than thanking him for saving a fellow human being brought charges against him for having done it (I had difficulty following his logic of why that was). Then he went on to talk about how he was also a heroin addict. Now, granted, the guy struck me as being part of that small percentage of folks who are homeless because of mental issues, but for a homeless heroin addict with metal issues, I have got to say he looked to be an amazingly healthy and well fed homeless heroin addict.

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A Tent City in Victoria: in Pioneer Square, across the street from Christ Church Cathederal

Kinsol Trestle, Shwanigan Lake B.C.

Formerly a Trestle that supported a train-line on Vancouver Island, now a tourist attraction and part of the Trans-Canada hiking trail (their answer to the Appalachian Trail)

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Heard about this from an old guy who was training to be a docent at Shwanigan Lake’s local History museum; pretty much EVERY town and village on Vancouver Island seems to have one of these, and none of them have proven worth seeing unless you’re already there and really desperate for something to do.

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Having never actually seen a train trestle before, other than in the movies, I decided I’d see it but was holding on on doing it till my girlfriend Gina came to visit (we’ve known each other since kindergarten); she always complains that traveling with me never involves much walking, and this place actually demands some.

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While it’s pretty, and if you’re in the area it’s worth seeing, I’m not sure it’s worth a special trip for. Trains no longer run across it.

Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, Victoria B.C.

Fort Rodd Hill, Because militaries have to spend money defending strategic locations, even when they are highly unlikely to ever being attacked; the movie presentation takes some sort of pride in the fact that other than for training purposes, a single shot was never made from this facility.

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I’m currently staying on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. I came here mostly because it’s the hometown of a former officemate of mine from when I taught in S. Korea, and she’s returned home. I’m not staying at her home for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is she has three cats and two dogs, and I’m allergic to both. Instead I found an Airbnb rental near her in a neighborhood called Shwanigan Lake, one with a spare bed for visiting friends.

Shwanigan lake, BC was advertised as a resort mountain lake town, but the reality of the place came no where near to meeting the excitement those words conjured in my mind’s eye; for instance, the town area has two restaurants (one Japanese place that no one EVER goes to, the other is a pretty tasty fish and chips shop with maybe four tables), a fairly decent but not impressive non-chain coffeehouse/bakery, a Subways Subs, a Sarpino’s (that cheap chain you rarely see outside of a mall), a gas station and a Korean owned connivence store that also makes sushi to order. The homes are either falling down shacks, or decent looking middle class homes. There are no mountains to be seen, just hills, and the lake is fairly dinky in size. Basically, if it’s a resort mountain lake town, it’s a working class one. This basically means I’ve been getting a bit bored, but HAVE managed to catch up on a bunch of back-dated blog posts that I didn’t have time (or was too tired) to write while actually on the road.

As I was looking for ‘things to do’ in the area for my friend Louise and I, and came across an activity called, “Women on the Home Front at Fort Rodd Hill 2016”

“Discover how women of the Second World War contributed to our victory. Join costumed re-enactors and Parks Canada staff during this four-day event at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site. Step back in time to honour women of the second world war and learn about the important contributions they made on the home front.

Special Presentations

Friday June 17 at 2pm – Victory Roll and Bren Gun Girls: 1940’s hairstyles for working women.

Saturday June 18 at 11am – Learn to knit:  First 20 participants get needles and wool. Everyone will receive free historic patterns and knitting help.

Saturday June 18 at 1pm – Knitting Bee: Refreshments and draw prizes.”

Sounds good right? I thought so as you know I’m in to History, and in case you missed it (the book I’m currently reading is listed off to the right), I had just recently finished reading the social history book Home Fires: The Story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War, which originally went by the title of Jambusters: The Women’s Institute at War 1939-1945, but got renamed to match name of the PBS drama series that was based on the book. Also, my friend Louise is very into feminist issues (she’s a professor of Human Resources -HR – and has written a load of papers on how women get screwed over repeatedly in the work place, especially in S. Korea) so I thought she’d be excited to see it, and she was.

I made a point of calling the Forte well in advance to verify what the web site had said, and they confirmed that it was going to begin on Thursday the 16th and run through Sunday the 19th (I actually found TWO web sites with the same information). Since my friend Tom was going to be coming in for a visit via the Victoria Clipper (a passenger only ferry) from Seattle, WA on the 17th, and would stay through the 19th, I figured our best bet was to go the 16th — as Tom being male might be less into the whole feminist thing. Then, the morning of the 16th I had posted to facebook that the plan for the day was to go to that event, and Louise posted a third link to it, one I had not until then seen, which said it was on the 17th through the 19th, and NOT on the 16th. This got me worried.

Neurotic female that I am, I started calling the Forte to get confirmation, was it or was it not happening today, Thursday the 16th.… and every time I called (and it was repeatedly, and incessantly) I got a recorded message; I called my friend to tell her my concern, and she called and got a human who said they were setting up, but events wouldn’t really get started till tomorrow the 17th, when my other friend was arriving…. OK then, not great news… after a few more tries myself, I finally got a human who confirmed that in spite of TWO websites saying it, they were NOT REALLY starting yet; that there were some exhibits currently being set up but that no one would be around to interpret them and we should come on Friday or Saturday, and that NOT on Sunday, because that was the day they’d be taking everything down. So I called Tom and asked him if he’d be interested in seeing this thing tomorrow after I picked him up from the Ferry, and he said he would… so problem solved, Louise agreed that rather than driving in together, she would meet us there, and then we’d each go our own way afterwards.

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When we got to the event, it was a sort of massively underwhelming, mostly because there was in essence NOTHING set up the related to the female experience in the war (we didn’t stick around to have our hair done).

What there was, was a guy showing us how to make barrels by hand (not sure what if anything that had to do with the topic)

And there were two guys who Tom and I both decided were just a little bit to fascinated with Russia, talking about Ukrainian troops who fought during WWII (he was less than happy when he discovered that both Tom and I were fully aware that the Ukrainians had not only backed the Nazi’s in that war, but were down right enthusiastic about sending their Jews to extermination camps), and a younger guy who looked to be his son talking about the Russians who fought in Afghanistan, and how they explained why Russians love Putin (again, one of men on my list of people that I love, has been, on and off, in what he refers to as ‘Fuckupistan’ ever since the 1980’s Russian incursion, first as a freelance photographer and later working for the UN when the US invaded, and as such I was a lot more ‘well-informed’ than this guy was comfortable with).

The closest thing to the topic was a woman who had set up a small exhibition of the post cards and things her great Uncle had sent home to grandmother (his sister) from his experiences in Europe during the war. These were kind of interesting. Some of them were hand-made needlepoint post cards made by Belgian women as something to sell to Allied soldiers. The most impressive cards he sent however were images of destruction. Apparently the Nazis would create these postcards of Allied destruction of the Fatherland as a way to motivate the troop. Then,when Allied soldiers picked the pockets of fallen German soldiers — uhg — they considered these to be a prize find, and would send them home as evidence of the progress they were making (sort of a disturbing win win if you think about it).  However, again, her exhibition was far more about her uncle’s experience in the war, than her grandmother’s.

So by attending this event we discovered very little “regarding how women of the Second World War contributed to our victory” as promised. And the only costumed re-enactors were talking about men’s experiences. We did however get to see the normal presentations by the park, and of course the permanent buildings:

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Any pics with me in them taken by Thomas Malone

I hate to say it, but I think this might be a Canadian cultural thing — although I don’t have enough info yet to confirm the theory. My friend Tom and I talked about it afterwards, and he said that while Canadians are amazingly polite, and disconcertingly nice, they also have a reputation — which I’d not heard of — to be a bit apathetic about things (my friend Louise is the opposite, she’s obsessed with fighting for causes). He said that you just don’t see the attention to detail professionalism that you’d expect in the states, which would explain why 2 of 3 web sites were wrong, and when we got to the event it was not at all what was advertised.

Clouds… no really, clouds. Shwanigan Lake, B.C.

One of the things that amazes me as I drive around the country, is how DIFFERENT cloud are from place to place. Seriously…

If you’ve never really looked up while traveling, you should. Different geographies result in very different sorts of clouds, and this sort is common here, I see them regularly, but I have not to my recollection every seen them anywhere else.

According to one friend, this is caused by the Jet Steam in northern elevations, but I’d love it if someone could comment with what these are actually called.

Saw it from the front yard of my Airbnb rental