Friday, January 25, 2008

Greasy Grapes of Wrath

Sadly I was unable to attend this rally yesterday at City Hall, Rally for Homeless Women: Were You Safe Last Night?, but am encouraged to know that there is a mobilization of women's voices raised at City Hall. Calgary is a not a great place to live. Calgary is expensive, cruel, and saturated with white men making a lot of money. I recently looked up the sale price of a house I am familiar with on the outskirts of the city; a small, 1,300 sf bungalow without any landscaping: the price tag is sitting at $483K. As a renter, myself, always with a concern of lease termination in the back of my mind, I a) don't get paid enough to own property in Calgary and b) am not foolish enough to buy a place that is worth maybe half the asking value. With the apocalypse pouring down on places like Cleavland's low-income/sub prime mortgage target communities, I am willing to sit tight with a lease worry rather than a mortgage terror.

Women who live on the streets, however, can't even find an affordable lease to fret over. Greed greed greed for the rich and we see our poor getting poorer and landlords raising rents and making excuses for it. Affordable housing is torn down for condos and replacement residents are not constructed. The homeless shelters fill up quickly and are a risky place for a woman without a home:

The rally was organized by Christine Walsh, a professor of social work who interviewed homeless women across the city. She found the women did not feel safe in co-ed shelters where they had a higher chance of being harassed or assaulted.
. . .
"Women are at risk for violence when they occupy the streets, particularly if they're in the streets in the daylight, and particularly in the evening hours, and for homeless women, that's their life," Walsh said.
Homeless women must unite and rage against the city and its policies and corporation-favouring budgets.

Last night my partner and I attended a forum on the legality of free speech. It seems that everyone wants to be able to say whatever hateful things they want against groups of minorities, especially, and be protected by free speech laws. One of the panelists, though, pointed out a crucial problem: Middle and Upper Class people want to be able to say what we want when we want about who we want. But we don't want lower class, namely, homeless street people, to be able to hold out a hand and say, "please help." Bylaws and city regulations are putting tape over the mouths of the poor, demanding they not speak. These people have nothing left, not even the basic human right to ask for help. It's sickening, degrading, and wrong.

What can we do? We can use our right to free speech for the purpose it was intended: to enact social change and raise human consciousness about injustices. We can also slow down our busy lives to soften up, take some time, spend a moment on the sidewalk to pay attention; listen to individual stories and experiences and advocate. As always, in the words of Isabel Allende, "How can we not speak about war, poverty, and inequality when people who suffer from these afflictions don't have a voice to speak?"

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