Calgary and the Stigmatization of Poverty, Bodies, and Spaces

My heart hurts. It hurts from reading this article: http://www.metronews.ca/news/calgary/2017/07/07/calgary-community-clashes-with-affordable-housing-project.html

As an advocate for affordable and accessible housing, as a person who has had their life touched by people who are homelessness and precariously housed, as an urban issues nerd, and as a compassionate human… this was an emotional read for me. This short article compelled me to pen this blog post… Brace yourselves, folks. This is a long one.

Quick Synopsis:

Members of the Shaganappi community in Calgary, Alberta are upset that an affordable housing complex which uses the Housing First model is being built in their community. After an open house for the “proposed project”, a group of Shaganappi residents felt compelled to form a committee and start a petition to stop this housing complex from being built. The leader of the pack, Shaundra Carvey, states the reason for the community uproar revolves around safety.

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SIDE BAR:
Safety… that word… it has a very different meaning to everyone depending on your life experience and privilege. Allow me to illustrate this. I worked as a Community Safety Coordinator in an inner-city neighbourhood once nicknamed “Murder’s Half Acre”. The neighbourhood was gentrifying. Middle class families were buying up cheap old lots and dilapidated rooming houses to renovate and move their families in. As an individual with safety attached to their title, I heard it all. I got the well-off community members approaching me about unsupervised kids making them nervous or how graffiti had shown up on their back fence. Then, I heard from the lower income folks which was an interesting experience in itself. They never came to me about safety complaints, I always went to them. I had to seek them out in order to hear their stories of feeling unsafe. When I did, I heard things like “my brother was stabbed last night” or “my landlord came into my apartment while I was showering” and “I was robbed of my pay as you go phone and all the food in my cupboards by someone living in my rooming house”. I fixed door frames and installed deadbolt locks for people living in rooming houses who had none, while I painted a garage door of an especially vocal, middle-upper income couple which had been graffitied. I’m sure you can see the different life experiences and the very different ends of the safety concern continuum of these two groups.

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Carvey wants to know “what measures would be in place to keep [her] community safe.” She says that the block where the proposed site could be erected has 17 children and a park. Carvey is “concerned about what could spill out into it” and that “the people that they were suggesting would live there would be those who had been chronically homeless, many with mental health concerns and also addiction issues.” As well, the committee of concerned residents are also dismayed that “[they] weren’t asked what [they] would like to go there…”

Let’s deconstruct what Carvey is saying here, or at least how I am interpreting it:

  • People exiting homelessness put her community at risk
  • People exiting homelessness are a particular risk to children
  • Parks are sacred spaces not to be contaminated by people living with mental illness and addiction
  • The community wants to define the “types of people” (and the types of lives those people live) that are allowed to live in their neighbourhood

We are witnessing stigmatization of people and place here. This type of stigma is called Socio-Spatial Stigmatization. It is a process whereby stigma attached to people both extends from and extends to the stigma associated with places (Takahashi, 1997; Smith, 2010). Socio-spatial stigma is often attached to the Not-In-My-Back-Yard phenomenon. A NIMBY-ist might say, “I want to end homelessness, but I don’t want to live next to it when we do.” NIMBY-ism has become increasingly prevalent with regard to harm reduction sites.

The residents are using their preconceived notions and judgements of who becomes homeless and their personal characteristics and extending those issues of morality to the space they will potentially occupy.

Housing complex=homeless people. Homeless people=crime. Crime=drugs. Drugs=…. The imagination of a parent in a moral panic can string on and on and on.

Opponents are positioning the housing complex and its potential clients as threats to the social body of Shaganappi, situating addiction, mental illness, and homelessness as a ‘pathology (out) of place’ in their “unique neighbourhood.” The contempt attached to people exiting homelessness results in perceptions of neighbourhood decline and devaluation, and heightened efforts by factions, such as Carvey and the Shaganappi residents, to enforce socio-spatial boundaries between the ‘pure’ and ‘polluted’ (Sibley, 1995). The community of Shaganappi being the pure. The abject body of the person exiting homelessness is cast as an agent of infection that threatens to sow disorder, deviance and disease throughout the social body of the ‘pure’ community.

There is anxiety around people they deem to be out of place. Even before they move in, the community is casting the people exiting homelessness as the ‘other’ and HomeSpace, the developer, and the enemy of their community’s status quo. However, a very interesting piece of this story is the fact that neither a program nor an agency has been chosen to occupy the building. All of this oppositional action sprung from an open house where the phrase ‘harm reduction’ was used (which in all honestly, needs to be used in order to obtain federal funding). The residents understand ‘harm reduction’ as something inherently detrimental to the way of life in their community. They immediately associate the model with a population that will pollute their spaces and make assumptions as to the impact on their community. If Carvey were to think critically about a harm reduction housing program versus dry housing program, she may realize a harm reduction site is in her community’s best interest. In a dry building, using alcohol and other drugs (AOD) is forbidden and an eviction is imminent. Thus, should a resident feel the need to use, they will take that behaviour elsewhere- perhaps to the sacred park of which Carvey speaks. With a harm reduction program, AOD use in the building is permitted. This type of program can contain the behaviour and keep the 17 children on the street away from whatever it is that Carvey fears.

Now, some people might think… “what is wrong with these people? Don’t they care about ending homelessness? Do they not have compassion for their fellow, vulnerable human?” I can’t speak for Carvey or the other community members rallying behind her cause, but… I’m sure if you had a conversation with them they would say that yes, they absolutely do care deeply about ending homelessness and no one should live on the street. I have no doubt these people have empathy and compassion in the right circumstances. However, the current circumstance is a moral panic, fear of properties being devalued, fear of interaction with people who are different than they, fear of their children witnessing something they deem to be immoral, and so on. If you read the article, the argument isn’t entirely rational.

Other people might say… “People are allowed to protect their families and not want undesirables in their neighbourhood.” That’s true. I would not deny anyone’s right to feel safe. But, there is not yet a threat to be concerned about. The building hardly has a plan and is two years off from construction. Also, isn’t it ironic that Carvey is building barriers to feeling safe for the vulnerable people who could be granted the life-changing opportunity to live in this new building?

Unfortunately, this story is not unique to Calgary or to any other place in the country. The stigmatization of persons and places are indicative of community rejection and organized resistance to low income people and/or housing. We can hear this type of stigma when people talk about Forest Lawn- “Don’t go there after dark unless you want to get stabbed.” We are making assumptions of the type of people who live there and how the community functions because of the people who live there.

By othering new residents, there is already a divide which tells them “you don’t belong here”. How can you, as a new resident and a person exiting homelessness, absorb that message and feel good about investing in your community? I don’t think you can. It could end up a bit like the Broken Window Theory- the community already hates you and treats you with disrespect, so why invest and be respectful of it? So, Miss Carvey and friends, you may be causing more harm to your community than you think by campaigning against and othering a population in need of our support and assistance in being socially included. We need to open our minds to the possibility that people who have experienced homelessness are not in anyway different than ourselves. They deserve respect, a supportive community, and a place to call home just as much as the 17 children and the parents on that street do.

 

Informed by:
Sibley, 1995
Smith, 2010
Takahashi, 1997

 

5 Things To Do in Calgary for Christmas

5 Things To Do in Calgary for Christmas

1. Enjoy the chinook.

2. Leave. They say no one is from Calgary, so go visit wherever you came from, I guess? I’m going to Winnipeg.


3. Listen to people complain about how oil prices are affecting retail sales this season.

4. Visit the golf course to see the light demo with the religious undertones.

5. Shovel every damn inch of sidewalk on your property line before your neighbours call By-Law Services on your lazy ass.

Happy holidays, folks! Have a good one!

One Year in YYC

Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Calgary.

I can hardly believe I’ve been here for a whole year. It really does feel like I just got here and I still tell people I’m new to town. I guess it’s true what The Magnetic Fields say: “Days go by too slowly and the years go by too fast.”

It hasn’t always been an easy transition, there were roadblocks, wrenches thrown in the mix, and some hard time blues. But, as I look back and reflect, It has no doubt been worth it.

What has happened:

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(+)  Classes, 1 year down! 
I finished up the first year of my masters with a 4.0 and some confidence in myself. For me, I thought the assignments, course load, etc was pretty easy. Which was surprising. Going forward into my second year, I am expecting some more difficulties as the courses get more specialized and my practicum gets more intense.

 

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(-)  Depression
My depression resurfaced for a bit in the past year and it was difficult to get a hold of. It resurfaced for a variety of reasons which I think are fairly average- feeling alone, feeling stressed, shitty relationship, shitty people in general, regretting the move, regretting the choice of school, etc. After losing about 30 lbs from stress and being unable to eat because of anxiety, my absolute best friend in the whole world stepped in. She encouraged me to get to the doctor and gave me some easy ways to tell the doc what was happening. That was a lifesaver for me and the moment things really started to turn around. That was about 5-6 months ago.

IMG_9945IMG_7542IMG_9161(+) New friends
I’ve made a bunch of new friends, which is strange for me. I’ve always found it difficult to make friends. But somehow, in the last 6 months, I’ve got a solid squad and they are all amazing people. I have beer friends, I have vinyl/audio friends, I have music show friends, I have bitch about school friends, brunch friends. I’m lucky to have such cool, supportive people in my life who actually like having me around and want me around.

 

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(-)  Obstacles
When I got here, nothing seemed to go right. I was denied EI, my apartment was a mess, my student loan took forever to come in. It was just one thing after another and it really frazzled me. I wish I had handled it better and it made me really negative about the move and the city. I felt like I had no one to lean on. But, I powered through as I always do on my own. Trying to not ask for help. However, some help did come in of its own accord and I’m grateful to those folks who decided to swoop in.

IMG_9683(+) Getting Back to the Things I Love
In the last six months, I have really enjoyed diving into the Calgary (& area) music scene. I saw some of the best concerts/shows I’ve ever been to in this time- Joel Plaskett in Canmore, New Bomb Turks at Dickens, Bob Log III at the Palamino, By Divine Right at the Ship, and Stars in Banff. Not to mention getting out to Bengough for Gateway Festival once again only to fall in love with Mo Kenney’s music. I’ve been to so many more shows, but these are the standouts.

 

IMG_7813(+)  Career
When I got to Calgary, I had zero jobs. Now… I have three! (1) I’m currently working for the City of Calgary as a social researcher. It’s just a summer term, but has it ever been a lifesaver as far as finances go. (2) My practicum supervisor asked me to stay on until next summer to complete my project. The project ends up with me having an academic article published. (3) I’ve become a sought after dog/house sitter. I started doing this for my brother’s girlfriend who has referred me to others, and I also gather clients just by chatting about my adventures in dogsitting. This income pretty much sustained me during the school year. I love dogs and I get to stay in fancy houses usually… it’s perfect.

IMG_8948My practicum supervisor sent me to Montreal for a conference that I usually would go to if I was working at the time. I got to see all my lovely young professional friends and hear about all the great things they are doing. I love those people and wish we got to see each other more often, maybe one day we will work together more closely.

When I got to Calgary, I had to come to the realization that no one knew who I was like they did in Winnipeg. It was humbling. But, I was determined to get my name out there. I made a significant cold call to a PhD in the faculty and sent her my CV. She instantly recommended me for 3 scholarships (one of which I won), made connections in the sector for me, and offered me a TA position (which I was unable to accept).

 

IMG_9480So… things have been looking up… WAY up over the last 6 months or so. I no longer hate Calgary. I actually kind of like it and I keep discovering new things and places that make it a bit more interesting. I do that through the help of a few people and a lot of curiosity. No more just sitting around watching Netflix and going to the SAME places over and over again! Change has been a good thing and there has been way more changes than I could have predicted. I thought my life would look a certain way when I got here, but it looked nothing like what I was hoping for. But, where I am right now is pretty excellent.

 

Calgary- the first two weeks

Long time, no post!

It’s been a very busy month for me with leaving my job, packing up, and moving a couple provinces away. It’s also been a very difficult and trying time too. With all moves, things don’t always go as planned- you have to roll with the punches and adapt. I’ve taken A LOT of punches in these last two weeks and it has been hard to stay positive about the whole thing. But, the people around me keep telling me that I am resilient and will fare fine. I am resilient, but it’s still been rough.

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We hit the road on August 1st, I shed a few tears for Winnipeg on the way out. Wondered if this was a smart move, or something I would regret in the coming days.

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Got to Calgary and realized there was A LOT of things wrong with my new apartment. The least of my problems was the smoke alarms sitting on a shelf with no batteries.

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But things got better. I met some awesome people and their fun dog. It’s nice to have some good people around you. And a dog to play with is nice too!

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There were a couple intense hailstorms a couple days after I arrived.

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I got some terrible news from the government about my EI. Mainly that I will not be receiving it and that was a shock to me. I kinda built my first few months around being able to focus on studies and not have to find a job right away. That news made for a terrible day.

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I got to hang out with my brother, which was nice. His girlfriend has 2 Shiba Inus that are super cute. Again, DOGS! I like the fat, little girl the best. She is so adorable. Hope I get to hang out with them a bit more.

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I haven’t found strangers to be too friendly here in this town. Went out for a few solo beers at a few different places. Not a lot of interaction with people, but a sorta friendly bar at the Oak Tree Tavern in Kensington. That was a fun-ish night.

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Lastly, Calgary is a hard town to get around if you don’t have a car. Most places I want to go end up being an hour away by bus/train. So, I haven’t been able to do a lot of exploring. It’s not a walkable city like Winnipeg and that is going to take some getting used to. Looking forward to getting my bike fixed and that will help a whole lot.

Well, that’s a bit of an overview of my first two weeks. I HOPE the worst of it has passed and I can start enjoying my time here. School starts in about 2 weeks, so I want to enjoy my time off til then. I know I’ll be super busy in the coming months.

As David Bowie might say, “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”

“I hate change. But, I also hate when things never change.” -Jovan Lottis

I’ve been living a pretty easy life over the last three+ years. I have a good, stable job that I enjoy. I have a modest apartment in a wonderful area of town. I’m healthy, the cat is healthy. It’s all nice, but also a little boring. In 2011, my life got shook up in a crazy way. I ended a seven year relationship, I moved twice, and got a real job. But, since then I’ve kind of been coasting along without too many serious bumps in the road.

I have a big change on the horizon. Probably one of the biggest changes in my life to this point and I’m pretty scared. As you may have read awhile back, I applied to grad school in Calgary, with a pretty high likelihood that I will be accepted. That means… I have to move. I have to leave my nice job and my nice apartment. Leave the comfort of this life and set off for one that I’m not sure will be as good as what I have here. I’ve lived in and around Winnipeg for my whole life, with a short spurt of time in the Caribou mountains of BC. Do I want to leave the familiar?

I fell a little bit in love with an amazing person this summer. He shook me and my life up and I really liked it. I want everyday to feel like that- head all fluttery, smiling when you see their name on your phone. I want to be IN LOVE with my LIFE again, because I haven’t been for a long time now.  I think about what’s really happening here for me- all my close friends have moved away recently, I have one family member living here. I spend the majority of my time working, reading work related literature, watching Netflix, getting drunk with strangers and sometimes bringing one home and hoping he never calls me, or some variation of these things. I’m kinda in a rut and maybe I need this move to shake my life up and bring something great.

There’s more than the one thing leading me to Calgary. There’s something else there that may or may not be good for me- it’s hard to tell. It’s a person who I have an inexplicable bond. I’ve been waiting for a signal, a sign, or a commitment to tell me it’s right. To tell me it’s going to be worth it. Whether I’m going for school or for this person has become blurred. I want to maintain that I’m going for opportunity, to better myself, to make a small difference for ‘have nots’ living in a ‘Have’ City, for adventure, for the Bucket List.

I like to be prepared. I don’t like surprises. I like to envision every possible outcome in situations. But, I just can’t with this one. All I do know is that I don’t want regrets in my life. I’ve recently tried to eliminate regrets from my life by telling people how I feel about them, applying for jobs over my head, saying ‘yes’ to giving lectures and presentations. I don’t want not moving to be one of those things I hate myself for in 10 years. I guess that’s why they call it a “leap of faith”, or maybe it’s more of a U-Haul of faith in this situation. Either way, it’s kind of all I’ve got right now.

Have you ever made a cross-country move? Was it worth it?