Where Can You Be?

by Noni Mausa

Believe me, I am grateful. It saves me so much time and trouble in listening to government officials, to know that once they use the word “academic” as an epithet I can stop listening at once and go take a shower instead.

In their minds, “academic” means “someone who spends their whole working life studying, researching and teaching one specific topic, and who therefore knows less about it than the boyos down at the Salisbury House Saturday morning breakfast club.

Rich Coleman, BCs Minister of Housing and Social Development, sprang the A word early in his CBC interview Thursday morning, as he pooh-poohed the insistence of Helen Lenskyj, author and professor emeritus in sociology at the University of Toronto, that virtually every Olympic host city swept their homeless under the rug prior to the big event. “This government has spent more money on housing initiatives than at any time in BC government,” Coleman proudly said, after he lost interest in declaring that Dr. Lenskyj didn’t know what she was talking about because she had never delivered a social program. Oh, and Coleman added that the proposed bylaw giving the police the power to move people to shelters by force in bad weather is totally unrelated to the looming Olympic invasion, due to strike during the bitter bonechilling cold of Vancouver’s — umm — rainy season.

(Sorry, I am from Winnipeg (the place where Celsius meets Fahrenheit every winter) and I must scoff. Nyah, nyah, our homeless are tougher than your homeless.)

The whole predictable, lamentable situation of shifting the homeless along like a quadrennial cattle drive, leads me to another rather claustrophobic question. I will get there by way of a roomful of pennies.

Long ago in university, our professor in Psych 101 asked us all to take out a penny and flip it. Those who got “heads” flipped again. After a few iterations, we were left with only a couple of people out of a room of 300, whose every flip had come up roses. Were these people some miracle-workers? No, even we clueless undergrads could not miss, seen in the aggregate, the falsity of that idea. The “winners” had just by random luck threaded a maze and popped out the bottom when so many had been held back, also by plain chance.

Shift your view to the job market. It’s true that skill and education and aptitude effect who is employed and who isn’t, but luck also plays a part, and as productivity becomes higher the spots available to be fought over become fewer. In a country of millions, many will flip and continually get tails, and wind up with no income at all.

Question — in a free nation, where can the man of many tails be?

Literally, where can he be? If a citizen cannot rent or buy, if he fears the tuberculosis or violence of shelters, if he cannot even set up a tent in the wilderness (it’s Crown/Federal land, not his) than where can he be?

Everyone has to be somewhere. Where can you be, when your pennies give out?

[Crossposted from the Canadian blog “The Galloping Beaver”]