Monday, March 16, 2009


The global stage is going through a major recession, unlike anything seen since the Great Depression. Every day, we are hearing about how thousands upon thousands of jobs are being shed by company after company. We hear stories about people walking away from their houses in the States, tent cities being set up after people lose their jobs and the sudden need for billions of dollars in corporate bailouts to save what few jobs are left.

On the street, people are getting cranky. Public servants, frustrated by an increase in their respective workloads, are talking back to their customers in ways that provoke, instead of provide insight. People are butting into lines everywhere, worried that the last scrap of whatever folks are after will be gone by the time they get there. Pensions, investments and other trusts we once believed were safe are rapidly disappearing, leaving many pensioners the choice of living their "golden" years in poverty or returning to work.

We hear more about school shootings, rampages where gunmen go crazy shooting up everybody in their home and then move on to random people on the street, or work rage, where the same thing can happen at the place of a former employer. Last Christmas, we heard about a man who dressed up as Santa Claus, drove up to the home of his former in-laws and began to throw pipe bombs and tried to torch the home, as well as shoot anybody else who got in his way. In the end, he blew himself up, when one of his home-made weapons set itself off too soon. We learned the shooter in this case was laid off from a well-paying job as an engineer, then his wife sought and won a court order against him for more money ... He planned to come to Canada. God only knows what he had planned for us up here.

In Germany, a 15-year old suddenly takes a gun and goes to his former high school and begins shooting. His targets were mostly female students and teachers. Though reportedly treated for depression two years earlier, one would question how relevant that is to this mass explosion. Another man in Alabama came home, took the lives of most of his family, as well as took down a few random people on his street, before ending his life at a metal plant (possibly where he might have been recently laid off). Two parents in Quebec had a suicide pact, whereby they were to kill their children, then one another, after leaving a detailed note as to why the economy was hurting them. This goes on and on and on ...

People are more likely to sue or get sued in these rough times, or fall behind in their debt payments, subjecting more folks to the ire of collection agencies. Family law disputes are taking on a more bitter tone, leaving many to the courts in what are known as the "high conflict" family files. Government agencies undergoing cutbacks experience an increased rate of error and declining rate of empathy, as payers of support payments end up with less than 50% of their income and often, end up in dire straits themselves. One man called me from his car, which is where he is living these days after he lost his job and then his home.

Many times, the only thing we can do is make appropriate referrals, or provide encouragement and moral support. Many of these people do not have money for legal services, nor do they fall under the purview of Legal Aid Ontario. On paper, their income is too high, but after the garnishment, they cannot even meet basic needs. Their only choice these days is to approach Family Law Advice Counsel at the court house, or to phone Lawyer Referral Service, with respect to how to best represent themselves in what will likely become a battle of a lifetime. They need to vary the court orders, amend visitation or even seek custody of children, or reduce or eliminate spousal support payments. Unless they can pay a lawyer, most of them end up representing themselves.

This has always been part of the problem, even before the chaos of the present recession began. The present recession is just wearing people down more. People talk to me more about how much they hate, as opposed to how upset they are. I lost someone to suicide in January 2009, and then somebody else to so-called 'natural causes' in his forties in February 2009. If the second one had access to a family doctor, medications and transportation, I am sure he would have survived (which is all I can say publicly). Poor people die, while rich people thrive.

Policy makers know the poor are worst off. They know that poverty is costing us more than $30 billion annually. They know that poverty is a good part of the reason our health care costs are skyrocketing. The growth of poverty seems to coincide with the growth of methadone clinics in urban areas; unfortunately, they too are responding to demand. I hear stories about how a few have sold their weekend carries on the street, or prostitute themselves to get the "real" thing ... or turn to booze or another drug of choice. Tenants get evicted more now for illegal drug use or for dealing from their units.

My work is to evict them. There have been cases when I met the same tenant time and time again, through different buildings, after a repeat performance of the first time they were evicted. The public and private interest is to get these people housed and protected, but at the same time, one must ask where ... living on the street can only exacerbate whatever problems they created when they started with my buildings. The problem only leaves one building, only to land on the doorstep of another. One thing my mother was right about was that things started to go really bad when drugs were introduced in society. Trying to remain impersonal and objective throughout this chaos is difficult to do, but one of my responsibilities.

I know there is a huge increase in addictions and drug dealing in general, as I see it in the streets, hear about it through various people I speak to, and learn of it from the coffee shops. But it is not just the low income people on Ontario Works or even ODSP that are using; many of the people who are using get no formal income, as well - many are fully employed. There are also wealthy professionals who also find themselves entangled. They just go to better places and are able to hide their habit better. People cry for a war on drugs, they cry for prohibition, when we know this will never work ... esp. when the world is falling apart at its seams.

In my building where I work, I often have to chase people out, feeling bad at the same time as many of these people have nowhere to go, except the streets. Many of these people do not have any income, as they were kicked off Ontario Works a long time for some misunderstood transgression. Perhaps, they lost their identification and did not have the funds to renew it, or they happen to be living rough and their OW worker can't really communicate with them, nor can any employer for that matter.

As an advocate, I am a lightning rod for people that feel strongly about things, from both the right and the left. The right wants to believe in the existence of the welfare queens, that continue to procreate with impunity to increase their income. Of course, they have no evidence of this except from "a friend of a friend who knew somebody that had fourteen children so she can make a mint off the 'system'". I have worked with low-income people as well as middle and upper income folks for years, and I have yet to meet anybody that would even want to have more and more children, particularly when they could not even feed themselves. There were a few teen mothers who never heard of birth control, as some might add, but they were referred to programs where they learned how to become successful parents, as well as finish high school.

From the left, they want governments to spend, spend and then spend some more to get us out of this global crisis. Spending more in a recession is not a sin, but indiscriminate spending can make the problem worse than when it started. While building "affordable housing" will create some construction jobs in the immediate term, money is still going to be needed in the future to maintain these units. The City of Toronto has a half a billion dollar backlog in repairs to its own housing stock, let alone thinking of building new stock. At the same time, poverty groups are pressuring the City to fix their units, which are more than just a mere "leaky tap" ... many have ceilings falling down, bad foundation, vermin, mould, as well as other problems that make their unit uninhabitable. We have to decide if we want to spend billions and billions of dollar propping up these buildings, many of which should be razed and rebuilt anyways, or whether the money can go somewhere else that might increase the incomes of all of the poor to encourage greater local investment, and thus, more capital to invest in the private market.

Today, an interested observer noted that "half the region is on Ontario Works or ODSP" and now more people are trying to get Employment Insurance. He suspects a secret government conspiracy that the powers that be simply want to put everybody on welfare, where they can control them. Others say they are attempting to make people so desperate that they will take any job, even jobs that do not pay minimum wage or follow health and safety standards, just to keep oneself one step ahead of starvation. Other theories are more foreboding; one has shared with me the idea that there is a policy of "slow genocide", whereby the weakest of society will be forced to slow starve to death or die of many of the diseases the poor are more likely to get, just so we can save a few tax dollars. Well, we all know they cannot directly put us all in the gas chambers anymore, or put us all against a wall and shoot us. That is too humane.

But billions of dollars have been handed to large companies ... people are becoming wary of how the executives are getting paid, even union workers in such industries as the auto sector. People are rightfully concerned that the majority of taxpayers that earn much less than these people collectively should continue to fork over money to keep these relatively wealthy classes alive. In the Toronto Star today, there was a story over "pension envy" where people in the private sector get no defined benefit plan (as these are slowly moving to the status of the dodo bird) are continuing to be forced to pay into secure, relatively high pensions of those in the public sector or even GM workers. Pension reform certainly needs to be on the table. I wouldn't want to be old right now; I would not be able to retire, as what is given to those without a private pension plan is peanuts. Again, we will be forcing our seniors to choose between housing and eating.

People are wanting greater controls over CEO salaries and perks, as well as some control over certain sectors, whereby it seems that wage hikes beyond inflation, plus retention pay, seem to be the order of the day, even when times are tough for everybody else. President Barack Obama has taken a great interest in a story of AIG executives receiving bonuses all of a sudden, right after receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer handouts ... I say, fire them all and make them pay it all back. Never going to happen, of course. But if somebody on welfare got a little more than what they were entitled to, you could bet your life that this individual will be hauled before the courts, charged with fraud and then thrown to the wolves. To me, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Maybe Barack Obama represents a change in direction. We can hope.

As for seeing our way out of this chaos, I am not sure. Some economists, such as Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, see this as being a short, sharp dip, whereby Canada will be less scathed than the many. Others are not so optimistic; Don Drummond from the TD Canada Trust, is saying about 500,000 jobs may still be lost ... it is going to get a LOT worse before it gets better.

In the meantime, some communities are getting together and holding rallies. I wish there'd be more of them in Niagara Region, but nevertheless there are more rallies ... politicians need to stop playing Chicken Little, as the sky is truly falling, but they can't simply run, scream and point their fingers at everybody else. They need to take action.

How positive action would certainly help me ... I would stop feeling so much in chaos. It is so bad that our building got its water cut off, then it was followed by a flood and now the plumbing on the second floor washroom (the only "public" washroom in our building) has no water and we can't even flush the toilets ... and we go downtown, walk down the street on my side and then we see construction job after construction job, whereby holes are dug up and filled up again ... I am pleased somebody gets to do the digging and the filling, but they are ensuring people's essentials are getting cut off, people are commuting in chaos and it has become rapidly known there really is no definite street I can walk through in my own neighbourhood ... too many holes, too many tractors, too many excavators, too many shovels ...

Now, if we would only get that shovel in the ground for that hospital we are supposed to build in west St. Catharines. To me, this chaos and crisis was orchestrated; it was certainly not something that would come out in the end to harm the elite ... just put us old runts through yet another rough patch. I just look forward to the day that this is finally over and I can actually talk to people about something else once again, instead of the havoc this world is wrecking on our little world.

Your thoughts?

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