The Governance of Poor People’s Possessions

Most of my waking life is spent on law school. The law continues to be used to protect property owners, people with money, and white people. People with disabilities, people who use stigmatized drugs, Indigenous and other racialized communities continue to be disproportionately impacted by enforcement of punitive laws. Seizing and destroying poor people’s belongings is done to ensure that property owners can continue to profit off of land that was stolen from sovereign Indigenous nations. The rule of law is inherently racist.

From the article:

“Whether it is on the streets or in parks, in shelters or couch surfing, in a
rooming house or single-room occupancy, precariously housed people lack
access to safe, adequate, and secure places to keep their personal belongings.
The laws, bylaws, and less-formal rules that govern public and private
spaces, combined with the lack of affordable and adequate housing (as well
as lack of storage facilities), creates the reality where the possessions of
precariously housed people and people who rely on public space are
constantly at risk of theft, seizure, impound, and destruction by
governmental and non-governmental actors alike. The lack of secure
places to keep belongings means that many people are forced to move their
personal property daily to avoid impound or theft.”

Law, Urban Space, and Precarious Property: The Governance of Poor People’s Possessions in Fordham Urban Law Journal

by Nicholas Blomley, Alexandra Flynn, Marie-Ève Sylvestre, Nicholas Olson

Andy Shauf’s Norm

I was lucky to work with Andy as a ‘story editor’ on his upcoming album, Norm. Patrick Hosken from MTV felt that talking to me was a good idea. Buy Andy’s new record tomorrow, February 10.

From Patrick’s article:

This kind of narrative experimentation called for an extra set of eyes on the story itself. Shauf enlisted his longtime Saskatchewan friend Nic Olson, a writer and poet who has also worked the merch table on Shauf’s tours, as a story editor. “We were texting about hockey playoffs or something like that,” Olson says, and then Shauf sent him a Google Doc. Olson saw the narrative laid out via the lyrics to each song, focusing only on the forward momentum of the Norm concept without hearing a single note of music.

“I made suggestions that were trying not to pressure him to feel like he needed to explain himself,” Olson says. “Smaller edits and just basic different words that could be replaced instead of additions, knowing that the lyrics were probably already written into the length and melody of the song.” Some of those tweaks involved swapping pronouns to clarify those changing narrators. Olson, who’s currently a law student, loved the idea of working as an editor on an album of recorded music; he deeply understands how crucial the refining process can be. “It kind of blows my mind if it’s not happening [regularly] because in my experiences of writing, if I don’t have an editor, shit goes so sideways, and it’s so hard to really effectively get your ideas across.”

Read the full article here: Andy Shauf, Storytelling Songwriter, At The Halloween Store

Parkland Bio

Last year I was commissioned by friend Will Quiring to write a bio for his new project, Parkland. Sometimes writing about music as a person who knows nothing about making music makes me feel like a dummy (the wamboozleboppadoo sound of the noise machine creates an atmosphere of smooth toffee-like bliss etc etc). But it’s fun to be involved in people’s projects, so I was glad to join.

Parkland is a place of contrast and a place of adaptation. The debut self-titled album of Parkland, pieced together inside the heads of six musicians across Treaty 6 and Treaty 4 territories in western Canada, negotiates the space between personal discovery and cooperative writing. Aspen parkland, as a biome, breaks the tension between prairie and boreal forest with dense brush and river valleys. Parkland, as both an album and a project, breaks the tension of songwriting and collaborating, clean production and honest sound, strategic instrumentation and open lyrics. Both the biome and the band merely exist as transitions between two different places. Prairie and forest. Before Parkland and after.

Started with a solo project in mind, Will Quiring (vocals/guitars/keys) made the most of an abundance of spare time to form sturdy skeletons of songs. He eventually came to realize that these songs could reach new places by incorporating the vision of some of his favourite musicians spanning the parklands. He spanned the biome, selecting collaborators naturally but with intention: the types of people you wouldn’t mind (hell, might even enjoy) being snowed in with.

Coming from bands such as Close Talker and Rah Rah, each musician wrote independently. Each performance was recorded in basements and friends’ home-studios in figurative (and at times literal) isolation, yet the album has the warm feel of a band playing together. Given the freedom to write the parts they envisioned, Jerms Olson (bass), Janelle Moskalyk (guitar/vocals), Ian Cameron (pedal steel), Jeffrey Romanyk (drums), and Steve Schneider (keys/vocals) each added to Quiring’s lyrical and musical exploration. Together, they crafted a record spanning folk, country, emo, and indie rock; never fully committing to one but giving a respectful nod to them all.

Lyrically, the struggle and contrast of growing with and into connection with someone, while at the same time beginning to loath activities that used to give hope, is part of what helps Parkland rise above the crowd. Like the cities and towns that dot the parkland biome, the lyrics are literal and free from forced glamour; a purposeful decision that comes with not wanting to hide behind obscure writing tactics, even if it exposes insecurities and vulnerability.

North of the Border leads the album with the conflict that comes when two people want the same thing (connection and comfort), while admitting one’s own itch to create personal memories and stories out of nothing. The second half of the album emerges with Buzz Cut, a reconsideration of former band dreams and the implications these dreams had on adjacent relationships. Quiring is learning from the words as they fall on the page, making realizations after the fact. The music rises to meet the lyrics as if no one would know what the words meant until they were interpreted with piano and pedal steel.

Parkland, as a band and an album and an ecosystem, is about interrelation. The songs arc through relationships that are rooted to specific places (North of the Border, Abby, Ohio, Alice Lake) but come off naturally as if they could be everywhere else all at once. The production is modest, lending the songs an approachable, easy relatability. Parkland balances the fading nostalgia of a house party at sunrise with the revelations that come from knowing someone intimately, falling asleep together before 9pm. Bands gearing up and winding down, old friendships evolving to new places, love in changing times and eras. Parkland shows that the person and the ecosystem can still thrive in each new season.

When Parkland ends you know you’re in a different place than when you started. You look up and you’re in the forest or the prairie. Parkland is both a place and an album of genuine self-discovery, which thrives when surrounded by people you love and a community that brings out your best. This is the ethos of Parkland, and how the debut album manages to feel new yet familiar, relaxed yet purposeful all at the same time.

Forced to become a community

See below for a summary of an article that I wrote with Bernie Pauly, entitled: ‘Forced to Become a Community’: Encampment Residents’ Perspectives on Systemic Failures, Precarity, and Constrained Choice.

A black and white photo of a tent in a city park with a tarp over it that reads with spraypaint: "Fuck you bylaw scum".
(Note: this photo was not taken from the Super Intent City encampment written about in the article. But I agree with its sentiments).

Homelessness is a serious public health concern with devastating consequences for health and wellbeing of homeless people. Visible signs of homelessness often appear in the form of encampments or tent cities. Such sites often raise controversies about public health and safety without attention to the structural, systemic and individual factors that contribute to their existence, including deficits in basic determinants of health and a failure to protect human rights to housing. The purpose of this paper is to explore the conditions that contribute to homeless encampments and ongoing issues of precarity, and right to housing from the perspective of residents of one encampment. The data set was comprised of 47 affidavits taken from 33 people from one tent city in Victoria, British Columbia (BC) in anticipation of legal action to remove residents and their belongings in 2016. We used Braun and Clarke’s (2006) approach to thematic analysis to identify, analyze and report patterns within the data. Residents spoke to systemic failures within the homeless sector itself as a factor in decisions to live in an encampment. Participants highlighted the challenges of ‘being chained to a backpack’ with nowhere to go and the impact of bylaws and policing on their health and well being. They acknowledged that while living in an encampment is a last resort it is often a better option than the streets or shelters with the benefits of a community, albeit a forced one with ongoing precarity. Public health responses to encampments should focus on centring human rights to adequate housing including self-determination and access to determinants of health. Such responses are aligned with public health commitments to health equity and social justice and require public health infrastructure.

See the full article available at the International Journal of Homelessness.

White Van Privilege

White Van Privilege follows the life of one white passenger van from conception to death: first roadtrip to final sale.

White Van Privilege is a collection of poems that considers the views from the front driver’s seat of a 2008 Chevy Express 15-Passenger van, and from standing next to a tent in a homelessness and drug-toxicity crisis made worse by a global pandemic. Turns out, the views are pretty similar.

All proceeds go towards my law school education with which I will use to rapidly dismantle the drug war and systemic racism, law by law, regulation by regulation. And/or authenticate your last will and testament. Either way.

Order today and there’s chance you’ll get it before December 25, but I doubt it.

Homeless Encampments: Connecting Human Rights and Public Health

“The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating long-standing issues related to homelessness, including lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, wealth inequality, and ongoing impacts of colonization. Homelessness is often accompanied by narratives rooted in individual blame, criminalization, and reinforcement of substance use and mental health related stigma. Visible homelessness, in the form of encampments, are manifestations of government policy failures that neglect to uphold the human right to housing, and demonstrate eroding investments in affordable housing, income and systemic supports. Encampments make visible that some in our community lack basic determinants of health such as food, water, sanitation, safety, and the right to self-determination. In order for public health to effectively and equitably promote health and enact commitments to social justice, we argue that public health must adopt a human right to housing and homeless encampments. Embracing a human rights perspective means public health would advocate first and foremost for adequate housing and other resources rooted in self-determination of encampment residents. In the absence of housing, public health would uphold human rights through the provision of public health resources and prohibition on evictions of encampments until adequate housing is available.”

See the entire article as a PDF here.

It’s been a Baja Summer 2021

For more Baja good times, please visit the Baja Broadcast on YouTube

I hate the law, Summer 2021: People

Work-Free Summer 2021: Objects/Places

(Lucy) Lawless Summer 2021: Film

Photos taken by Nicholas Olson and/or Ольга Kovalenko