Saturday, December 16, 2006

Keeping Undesirables Out of the Neighborhood

So, I finally have a blog.... Now what?

I wasn't sure whether I needed a blog or even wanted a blog... not even sure what I'd use one for if I had a blog; however, my understanding is that it is has recently become law that every online citizen must have at least one blog - even the ones with no valid opinion. Apparently, 'everyone' even includes the "little bastards in the back" - or the Nibble for short.

I'm not sure what I will put in my blog either, although, I'm thinking this will probably end up being the usual mishmash of technical notes and thoughts, diatribes about things that are bothering me, and weeks - perhaps months - of nothingness.

While deciding what to post for the all important 'first post', the topic - and the title of this post - fell from the sky.

I happen to run a community driven website for my neighborhood that is meant to serve as a notice board, meeting place, and general central location for people living in the community to express opinions and voice concerns. It's been running for a few months now with not much traffic - just the usual local interest stuff - until yesterday when a post with the title 'Keeping Undesirables Out of the Neighborhood' appeared. The crux of the post centered around reminding the neighborhood to refrain from placing bottles and cans in our recycling bins as this is "encouraging the homeless, and drug addicts into our neighborhood". I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry....

The person goes on to say that "Trust me, these are not the people that we want here, nor do we want to give them money that they will in turn use for crack cocaine." I wasn't aware that homeless people were all crackheads.... and I sure wasn't aware that they were organized enough to carpool their way out to the suburbs to raid our recycling bins - this is clearly a problem.

The fear mongering continues with "they will go after anything of value in our backyards, cars and even our homes, to pawn or sell. They are wandering in our alleys at all hours of the night." Wandering our alleys at all hours of the night! I'm not sure if you've been to Clovervalley Station recently, but it is not exactly downtown NYC circa 1978... in fact, I'd say it's a little closer to Mayberry circa 1961.

Instead of fear, uncertainty and doubt - perhaps the best response to a homeless person or crackhead that resorts to dumpster diving is empathy. Its pretty clear from the divers I've seen that this isn't their first career choice. In fact, if it wasn't for mental disabilities, debilitating addiction, and/or pure desperation, I assume the vast majority wouldn't be doing it at all. To suggest that putting a few bottles of cans in our recycling bin in a moderately rich suburb neighborhood is 'encouraging the homeless and drug addicts' makes a complete mockery of their actual plight.

The downtown Eastside is currently debating whether to begin locking the local dumpsters in an attempt to limit the amount of people cruising the alleys etc. Clearly, the downtown Eastside - perhaps more than any other neighborhood in North America - has grave issues with homelessness and crack/drug addiction.... but to keep the focus but shift the context of that debate to the suburbs is ridiculous.

I realize that 'crack isn't just a problem in the downtown Eastside' - and I'm not arguing that these aren't huge issues facing society as a whole. My argument is that spreading FUD in the suburbs is not the way to fix it. To be fair, the person that posted did finish with a couple of suggestions of where to donate if you really are interested in helping with the situation; however, if the person was genuinely interested in fixing the situation - why not just start with these suggestions and leave it at that?

I'm not sure how I'll respond to the post on my community website... suggestions are definitely appreciated! I find it ironic that on the same weekend that this topic arises on my community site, the Nibble gets blogs. For anyone wanting to keep undesirables like the Nibble from the 'Blog Neighborhood'.... too late ;-)


  1. I would strongly urge the people of your neighbourhood to do something that will help the poor rather then force them to root through trash to make a couple dollars a day. If unrecycled bottles are a problem, maybe the neighbourhood could operate a regular bottle-drive and donate the proceeds to a charity like AIDS Vancouver or any other organization dedicated to helping help the poor.

  2. I think for the most part, people's intentions are good, but their prejudices tend to get in the way. Clearly this is a case of somebody fearing what they don't understand. Most of these folks can't hold down a "regular job" for one reason or another, and they're basically making themselves useful by collecting recyclables. It's actually a public service of a sort, since there's plenty of "normal people" who can't go to the trouble of recycling themselves, and all their bottles and cans end up in the trash.

    Before I hooked up with my current, erm, "thrifty" partner, I did my bit by giving homeless folks my bottles directly, rather than force them to root through the trash. Being a lazy, somewhat well-off 20-something, I figured if I wasn't going to go to the trouble of hauling this stuff down to the depot/liquor store/etc, I may as well hand it over to somebody who will.

    I lived in downtown Nanaimo at the time (if you think there's no homeless problem there, know that it was known as the herion capital of North America pretty much through the 70's and 80's), and all I had to do was bag up the bottles and step outside. Invariably one of the locals cruised by in less than 10 minutes and I set the bag down, nodded in their direction, and walked away. Some averted their eyes, some nodded back, but most just put on the "thousand yard stare" and looked right through me.

    They all took the bag.

    What they *didn't* do was rob me, break into my car, or sneak into my apartment to steal the silver. I'm as nervous walking past homeless folks on the downtown streets as the next guy, but I don't seriously believe they're going to make the commute to my suburban home.

  3. Thanks for the replies... they help to confirm that I'm not just being pedantic.

    Dom, I think that's the tack I'll take with my response. The "Good Suggestion on Helping - Perhaps we could all Help" response...

    Ian - interesting take and an excellent point. I mean - to me a person harvesting bottles is at least a person that is working for a living. Hell, its a job none of us would do! The person taking the bottles is NOT stealing from us... they are trying to legitimately "earn" their keep. They could make a hell of a lot more by stealing - but they aren't - and that's the point.

    I've had friends that lost everything (wife/kids/friends/business/house) from crack - so I _know_ what crackheads look and act like. They _do_ steal.... from everyone... and there is _nothing_ you can do about it. And they are in _every_ neighborhood. They start by borrowing from everyone they know - then borrowing without asking - then selling stuff that isn't theirs - then outright stealing, etc etc etc. However, again, are these the people in my alley taking my bottles? I doubt it.