Homelessness has been a subject high on my watch list for almost 20 years. Few people really understand it, it is far more complex than a scruffy guy begging on a street corner. Today I watched a news item, in the City of Los Angeles there there are 60,000 homeless people. That is three times the population of the city I live in!

It was 10 years ago that my regular contact with the homeless ended. For a few years some kept in touch, and some died. Being homeless does not equate to longevity.

Several years ago I crossed paths in email with the delightful RickThePoetWarrior.

He sends me ‘Books’ every month. I was never sure exactly what Rick was, certainly he seemed to bounce around Western Canada a lot, Victoria, Revelstoke, Banff, you just never know where Rick will turn up next. Rick is Canada’s version of Where’s Waldo.

I decided to open a dialog with him

Rick,

I’d like to ask you some questions, if you don’t want to talk, that’s fine. If you do want to talk, I have no clue where it might lead.

Let me share a little about my self. Born and grew up in Britland. Climbed on a 747 with 18 month old son and very pregnant wife in 1980, destination Calgary. I was a hot shot computer geek and had been recruited on the spot at an IBM love fest in Chicago 3 weeks earlier. It’s amazing what money can do with the icky process of immigration. It was with Dome Petroleum. By 87 I was bored out of my tree. I took a paid leave of absence to computer geek for the Winter Olympics.

I went back to dome, and resigned, the next stop was San Diego CA Again I do not understand the immigration issue, all it takes is gobs of cash (not mine).

10 or so years later, divorced and broke, I ended back up in Calgary.

I got the job of running the Computer Lab at then (brand new) Calgary Drop In Center. I worked there from early 2002 til late 2008.

During this time I learned a great deal. For the most part I proffered the ‘inmates’ to the staff. The staff were shit heads. I could not take it any more, and when in 08 Jan said that she had to head back home Picayune, MS, I said OK.

Homelessness is a complex subject. Every single person has a unique story. The big three reasons are Booze, Gambling and drugs. However it is far more complex than that.

Case in point, there are people that choose it as a lifestyle, the European Romany would be a great example.

The Drop-in essentially sorted inmates by type. The ground floor was the drunk tank, the inmates slept on mats on the floor. I don’t want to appear biased, but 70% of the regulars were Native Indians. It was a sad place that always smelled of Listerene.

The second floor was the ‘day use’ areas, food place etc’

The third floor was open plan dorms, a large one for guys and a much smaller one for women. Single beds with sheets.

The fourth and fifth floors are bunk beds in 4 or 8 bed pods.

Yes very much this is a class system. The 6th floor was for the muckity mucks, I ran the computer lab out of it for several years, but eventually got banished to the ‘Old Di’, well, you can’t have a bunch of homeless people breathing the rarefied air of the sixth floor!

I said fuck it, and decided that I’d wage my own one man war on homelessness.

It did not take long to discover that while booze, drugs and gambling had their fans, Many people are just the working poor. They lived in poor circumstances because it was all they could afford. And when even that became impossible it was places like the Drop In that they turned to

Literacy was a huge problem, I joined forces with an ex-teacher and school board member, boy was I public enemy #1 on the 6th floor! You see, there is no desire to fix the problem, homelessness is an industry. So many $ per night.

I also ran some programs for immigrant youth and adult ESL students from the local community collage.

Management hated it, but when the TV crews came a calling, it was me that they wanted to talk to.

Hurricane Katrina was how I escaped. My wife’s 15 year old son was basically homeless.

Sorry this was so long winded…..

Ricks reply

Sure bud

I also started as Computer Geek and got disgusted

My downfall was gambling however I had plenty of get off the street opportunities
I felt i could help those with addiction problems, alcohol, booze
had some great successes and failures too

You’re bang on when you say it’s an industry and Victoria has it down to a
tee with the housing of addicts, hooking them on methadone instead of rehabilitation’s and really no recovery

Most of those I have helped have walked away from the system as it is
designed to keep you hopeless (My poem That Damn Old Rock Bay Landing) describes the reality of Victoria’s system as Rock Bay is the down and out shelter.

And with rising prices you’re right again, many homeless are just working poor
I have no love of our elite as you know. I believe they have abandoned humanity and
their right to participate in same. The solution?

Ask away

The door is open. As I said I don’t know where this series will lead, but I believe that it is one worth exploring and understanding. Don’t look down on the homeless, for every one that chooses it as a lifestyle there are a dozen that do not.

More soon..

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