February 14, 2008

[Disadvantage] Alberta's Down & Outs

It boggles my mind that here in Alberta, where it is not unknown to dip down to -40 degrees below zero (Celsius) we can sleep comfortably knowing there are nearly 2000 homeless people struggling to find shelter in the city of Edmonton alone. According to statistics from 2002, some two hundred people are forced to find a bed every night (as the shelters are all full).

A month ago, when it was even colder than that, we got a knock on our door late at night from Phil, who offered to shovel our walkway for anything in return. He and his snow clearing associate were trying to raise the $20 they each needed to afford a warm place to sleep that night. We gave Phil and his partner $40 and some water and wished them a good night (...to do anything less given the circumstances should be considered criminal).

I have come to know Phil a bit more since then. Although Phil is homeless, he is perhaps one of the most entrepreneurial people I've ever met, and has demonstrated himself to be an extremely hard worker, and he reliably shows up at our place every time there is snow to be shoveled (three characteristics you don't often hear within the stereotypical perspective of homeless people). But nevertheless, despite these virtues of his, which our society tends to consider so positively, Phil is constrained by a host of structural forces that make it extremely difficult for him to acquire a home. I'm not going to make assumptions about him or his life other than that it appears that despite his hard work ethic, his entrepreneurial spirit and his reliability as an uncontracted employee, he remains homeless because of political and economic structural forces.

Now let us shift to Mr. Steddy Eddie and his Conservative provincial government who have held power now for 32 years. Could they possibly have something to do with these political and economic structural forces? Could the years of cuts to social spending by Ralph Klein and the war against homeless people that he launched with his drunken escapade have anything to do with it?

I think that would be a safe bet.

And yet we continue to hear government propaganda about this mysterious "Alberta Advantage", like somehow we are ahead of all the other provinces, like we've got access to mountains of (black) gold and, if you could only move here and find an affordable place to stay you could pick the money off the trees yourself.

The truth is that the Alberta advantage is, as usual, concentrated in the hands of the political and economic elite.

Erin wrote an excellent article about this after attending a conference titled "The Alberta [Dis]Advantage". You can take a look at it here.

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