Category: Non-University

Colonial powers and community showers

The following was originally posted on Poverty Kills 2020’s blog, and was written with help from Joshua at Poverty Kills. It outlines the ongoing pandemic shower saga and the City’s inadequate response.

Since the first COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in ‘victoria’ in March 2020, one survival service (of many) that has been restricted for those forced to shelter outside is basic hygiene access in the form of showers. While there have been several organizations that have been offering limited access to showers throughout the pandemic, overall these services have been reduced, restricted, and largely inaccessible to those sheltering in parks away from the downtown core. With ongoing changes to bylaws and enforcement, an order from the provincial government restricting sheltering in two locations, and increasing hostility from housed people, campers have been continually and increasingly displaced from the core of the city where most shower services are located. 

On November 21, 2020, in massive numbers, bylaw enforcement officers and VicPD tore down community-built crowdfunded showers and a community care tent at MEEGAN. Shortly after this heavy-handed display of colonial power, the City announced a one-time Emergency Social Services Provision Grant to respond to immediate hygiene and survival needs until March 31, 2021 when the City is insisting everyone living outside will be housed (despite no apparent plan to achieve that). While more funding for resources and infrastructure is useful, the City is also the cause of many of the problems and this grant has political motivations and implications. 

From the start the City has prioritized money for increased bylaw enforcement and policing, including a recent allocation of nearly $600,000 additional funding to hire five more Bylaw officers (which is intended to be permanent, at $491,000/year) and to pay police more overtime for increased policing near larger encampments. The City has repeatedly changed rules about sheltering, forcing people to move multiple times, and arbitrarily deciding on permissible locations with no thought to liveability of those locations — as was horribly witnessed a week ago when heavy rains flooded many people’s tents, destroying their belongings — and even spent money on a legal injunction to displace campers from one location. And the City has also repeatedly refused to communicate and work constructively with groups providing support and services on the ground.

Despite many misgivings about all of this, given the huge need for more shower access Nic, a community volunteer involved in shower advocacy, spent many hours sleuthing shower options and bringing groups together to support a collaborative, peer-centred mobile shower project. But the way the City set up the grant meant this was doomed to fail. 

We are sharing Nic’s work for two reasons. As part of broader understanding about how colonial systems work, we want to illustrate how the one-time Emergency Social Services Provision Grant was inaccessible, problematic, and perpetuates colonial control, and how the City continues to interfere with unhoused people’s autonomy to decide what they need and who they trust and want to work with. We also wanted to share info on mobile shower logistics in case it helps people in other regions who are considering mobile showers to have a realistic sense of what is involved.

FUNDING AMOUNT

The City’s grant was limited to $100,000 one-time funding. To explore what could be done with that funding, as a starting point Nic consulted with LavaMaeX, a highly reputable and experienced mobile shower and hygiene provider who offers support and consultation to organizations looking to develop mobile shower programs across the world. For some items he also did additional research on costs. 

Although the mayor posted on her blog a picture of a three-stall mobile shower trailer from another region as an example of what the grant was supposedly making possible, the reality is that even a smaller mobile shower project can’t properly be done for $100,000. That amount is not enough to buy a shower trailer and cover the costs of freight and duty for the import of the trailer, a vehicle to tow the trailer, wages, vehicle insurance, liability insurance, ICBC coverage, materials (propane to heat the water, gas for truck and generator, towels, sanitizing products, etc.), laundry services, unit parking costs, and vehicle/trailer maintenance. Below we break down the expenses. All estimates are in ‘canadian’ dollars.

Shower trailer: We believe it is unethical to consider infrastructure that is inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities. However, for a more solid understanding of costs Nic looked at a full range of options, consulting both with LavaMaeX for a general sense of cost range and five commercial shower trailer suppliers for more specific estimates. A 3-stall trailer with stairs (which would have required ramping and other accessibility customization) or a 2-stall wheelchair-accessible trailer would have cost over $60,000, and a 2-stall non-accessible trailer (which would have required ramping and other accessibility customization) would cost over $40,000. Obviously, having only two stalls would significantly reduce the number of people who could use the shower on a daily basis. LavaMaeX estimated that a 3-stall trailer could provide 35 showers per day, already not enough for the 200+ people at all 11 different sites across the city to shower even once weekly. 

Vehicle with towing capacity: LavaMaeX estimated over $50,000 to purchase a new truck with sufficient towing capacity. It’s a huge outlay especially for just a four-month project, but there aren’t other good options. Shopping on the used market means the vehicle risks being unreliable with high maintenance costs, leasing a vehicle is generally not possible or cost-effective if the lease is less than a two-year contract, most car rental companies will void their insurance if the vehicle is found towing a trailer, and U-Haul vehicles that are capable of towing a trailer weighing 9,000 lbs are not rentable by the month. 

Wages: To run a three-stall mobile shower service operating 4 days a week with one day for deep cleaning and maintenance, LavaMaeXestimated a budget of over $28,000 per month for wages alone. This far exceeded the City budget so Nic tried to take it down to a bare bones level of what he felt was possible in local conditions and given the size of the City grant. In the peer-oriented staffing model Nic came up with, the labour costs alone to operate a mobile two-stall shower at a bare minimum of 4 days a week, with two positions (split between multiple people to support peer payments) at 8 hours a day plus 3 hours weekly for trailer maintenance, at $25/hour, would cost $7,875 per month in wages. This doesn’t include the extensive amount of time that would have to go into weekly coordination, or the coordination with the City around sites, safety protocols, and their required reporting (LavaMaeX estimated coordination as one full-time position). A two-position staffing model, even just for February and March and excluding prep training on operating the trailer, overdose response, etc., would total over $15,000. 

Other costs: To run a three-stall mobile shower service operating 4 days a week, LavaMaeX estimated a core budget of $1,356 per month for cleaning products, laundering towels, propane, and water; they couldn’t provide any estimate for ICBC insurance, liability insurance, maintenance of the trailer and towing vehicle, gas, or parking as these are highly geographically specific. Nic didn’t do any in-depth investigation of these costs as it was clear by this point that there was no way to make this work within the terms of the City’s grant.

The bottom line: While $100,000 seems at first glance like a significant sum of money that should be more than enough to run a mobile program for four months, the reality is that acquiring mobile shower infrastructure is very expensive. The City either did no diligence around actual costs of purchasing or operating a mobile shower unit, or deliberately set up a funding competition that was hyped as being open to grassroots teams and organizations already on the ground, but in reality was viable only for large organizations able to augment the City’s funding with other funding sources. 

Realistically, it’s the big poverty industry agencies that corner a large portion of funding streams because of their official organizational status (many funding streams are only open to registered charities) and existing infrastructure (positions and wages that can be shifted to new projects, existing vehicles, ongoing funding from donations, work space, secure parking, liability insurance, administrative and fundraising infrastructure, etc). And indeed, in the end the only organization that submitted a mobile shower proposal was the Salvation Army, a mega-agency that, globally, has a long history of anti-queer and anti-trans discriminationand as a proselytizing Christian organization is not felt to be safe by many people who have experienced harm by Christian churches and missionaries. This is not an organization that prioritizes accountability to people who are unhoused; the local branch came under scrutiny in 2015 for having substandard living conditions in its shelter, and in 2020 was in conflict with outreach groups and people living outside about the way it handled its publicly-funded food distribution to people living in parks (which was abruptly discontinued by the Salvation Army after a few months of changing locations and times with minimal notice, choosing to leave their donated specialized food truck sitting idle rather than offering it to the outreach groups that were left scrambling to put together food distribution systems). 

Photo of a shower trailer included in the Salvation Army’s funded proposal. The Salvation Army committed to providing $55,000 top-up funding as part of its proposal, as the City’s funding was not enough.

Grassroots groups and mutual aid organizing have the ability and willingness to collaborate with people sheltering outside in the design and implementation of infrastructure and programs, and are often centred around economic justice principles that mean recognizing the expertise and skill of people who are unhoused, prioritizing money for peer positions, and paying peers fair wages. But grassroots groups and mutual aid networks don’t have the same kind of financial leverage as poverty industry agencies. Even if no matching funding is required as a prerequisite for applying (as is often the case), functionally requiring matching funding means that large organizations who don’t work collaboratively with those sheltering outside are likely to be the only ones who can run a project.

TIMELINES

Beyond the financial restrictions involved, the timeline restrictions involved in a project of this nature were also substantial. 

Hurry up and wait: People living outside and the groups providing on-the-ground support have been calling for mobile showers since the COVID public health emergency reduced options in March. When the City finally responded eight months later, the amount of time between the grant announcement and deadline was 10 days. While several city councillors successfully got the deadline extended by one week at the last minute, it still proved, for most people and organizations on the ground who were already stretched thin and functioning at over-capacity, too quick and therefore unworkable to figure out a solid plan for something as complex as creating a collaborative, peer-based mobile shower program from scratch. LavaMaeX has suggested that most organizations take several months to do what the City required to happen in 10 days.

While the City expects organizations already working flat-out to hustle to meet the City’s timeframe, that’s not an expectation they hold for their own staff. Two of the three successful applicants funded through this program have not been able to begin their project one month later due to city restrictions and bureaucracy, making one question how much the City actually deems this an “Emergency”.

Unrealistic implementation timeframe & lost time due to City inaction: In its grant program description the City said grants would support programs running from December 1, 2020 until March 31, 2021. But in the process of calling mobile shower programs in ‘canada’ and all of the shower trailer production and sales companies Nic could find online, it quickly became evident that the earliest a shower trailer could make it onto ‘vancouver island’ would be mid-February 2021. This is largely because of the high demand of mobile shower trailers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, because other municipalities and organizations across the continent had been months ahead of ‘victoria’ in their decisions to pursue mobile shower trailers. Again, the City either did no diligence in creating its granting program or didn’t care that their timeline was unrealistic. Receiving a mobile shower trailer in February 2021 means 2+ months dead time until people are able to access basic hygiene services, with no interim solutions (and already-torn-down mutual aid shower stalls). There was a proposal for fixed-site showers — already constructed — that the City could also have opted to support, that could have been installed much more quickly as an interim measure.

The two community-built shower stalls that the City removed from MEEGAN after people having hot showers for four days. These were supported through volunteer labor and crowdfunding, and cost $5,883 to build, transport, and install. Photo by Emily Fagan from Tyee article.

Additionally, the grant only funds projects until the end of March 2021, which meant that for any team exploring the feasibility of a project there was only a vague guarantee of showers for, at most, 1.5 months unless organizations could come up with additional funding beyond that time. Some groups didn’t apply out of a feeling that $100,000 for 6 weeks of showers is not the best use of emergency funds. 

While a mobile shower unit is something that will be needed ongoing as long as there are people living outside (even if fixed-site shower services return to pre-COVID service structures), many individuals and organizations are unable to take a project on with such uncertain funding for ongoing operation. The infrastructure is only a good investment if it comes with realistic operating timeframes and full accountability to people living outside in how it is operated.

SCOPING

The City pitched this project as taking care of people’s shower needs. But when you don’t ask people living in parks how they need things to be set up, it’s impossible to accurately scope an issue. Throwing out a random budget number with no sense of how well it meets needs is not a responsible approach.

As mentioned earlier, LavaMaeX estimated that a 3-stall trailer could provide 35 showers per day. The Salvation Army was funded for a 3-stall mobile shower operating five days per week — at that rate the 200+ people at all 11 different sites across the city can’t shower even once per week. If housed people were rationed down to one shower per week, even outside of a respiratory pandemic, there would be outrage. 

Instead of providing an amount insufficient for even one mobile shower unit, the City could have considered offering both a mobile shower unit (which might be the most feasible approach for smaller parks) and also fixed-site showers at the larger sites where there is significant volume of people needing to shower. The community shower-builders did submit an (unsuccessful) application that could have made showers immediately available near the largest park where people are sheltering, with an option for more fixed-site showers at other locations as part of the roll-out. Fixed-site showers definitely don’t meet everyone’s needs but the immediacy of their implementation at least would have meant that people in one site had access to hot showers near where they’re living during the coldest months of the year. And it would also have relieved demand on the mobile unit, making it more feasible for people at other sites to benefit from it. 

While a mobile shower unit is great in its portability, if you happen to be at the wrong site on the wrong day, or have a schedule that doesn’t align with that of the shower trailer operators, then you are still out of luck. Fixed-site showers proximate to where people are sheltering can be peer-operated during hours that are flexible and based on what people living in the park need, without the environmental and financial costs of moving the showers around the city. But colonial systems don’t consider diverse needs and have little creativity around how to meet those needs.

ETHICS

Witnessing first hand the ways that people sheltering outside have been treated by bylaw officers and police through the pandemic (and well before), and watching the same forces do everything in their power to restrict access to showers at MEEGAN (including turning off a water hookup and digging it out of the ground, tearing down several shower stalls, and arresting one person), it did not feel right to even consider applying for funding from the City. A City grant released in the midst of City staff aggressively dismantling a mutual-aid shower project and community care tent is insincere and largely performative. Tearing down an already functional mutual-aid shower project to create a City-controlled shower option is a paternalistic, colonial, bureaucratic power move. The City’s PR person claimed to media that the community showers were shut down because grassroots people were unwilling to work with them, but after nine months of the City being obstructive to grassroots groups working on the ground, it becomes apparent that in the City’s eyes, “working with the City” actually means doing what the City tells you to do.

Additionally, while framing this grant as open to everyone, the reality is that the City’s funding processes are completely inaccessible to people living outside who do health and social service provision all the time with little recognition or compensation. One hopeful applicant sheltering in a park only heard about the grant three hours in advance of the deadline, as the City relied heavily on email to organizations and advertising on its website — impossible for people living outside to access when the City has refused to provide electricity so people living in parks can keep mobile devices reliably charged, and drop-ins are largely closed due to COVID. Council’s discussion of applications during a webcast meeting included a decision to remove the name of the individual who was the most heavily involved in the community care tent, and who had already demonstrated an ability to successfully do a community care tent (till the City tore it down), saying that instead the money should go to the church that was the organization listed as the co-sponsor (in compliance with the City’s requirement that an organization with insurance be identified as the co-sponsor for any informal team). The City’s processes speak to the inaccessibility of funding and the ways that involvement of people who are currently unhoused or have recent experience in the street community is largely tokenized. A peer-based project submitted by an unhoused person and a housed ally was submitted but it wasn’t funded.

Seeing the ways that this grant has been administered, the ways the funding has been distributed, and the ways that the implementation of its projects has been delayed and stretched because of bureaucratic process, demonstrates the ways that this grant — while partly well-intentioned and undoubtedly meaning to support good work in community — was also inadequate, insincere, and a public-relations tactic meant to sweep the City’s misdeeds and inaction under the rug.

A MONTH AFTER THE SO-CALLED “EMERGENCY”…

After a short extension to the grant deadline, the City decided to fund three projects: $6,500 to set up a new community care tent near (but not in) the park at MEEGAN (making it functionally inaccessible to people living in the park who can’t leave their belongings to access the tent), $22,400 to the Umbrella Society for morning “wellness checks” as part of delivering 120 breakfasts to the 200-250 people living outside (the food provider making the breakfast, who also submitted an application, was not funded by the City), and $86,520 to the Salvation Army Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre to provide a mobile 3-stall shower trailer in parks five days per week until the end of March. The total comes to $115,420 but the City is asking the CRD to reimburse the $15,420 overage from its original $100,000 commitment.

A month after the grant deadline, there are still no showers in or near parks, and restricted showers elsewhere. There is still no city-built infrastructure in order to allow the City’s approved version of the community care tent. While the city tears down mutual aid projects and turns off water sources for people sheltering outside, while they drag their feet in forcing support projects through the “proper” colonial bureaucracy, hundreds of people are forced to live outside in heavy rain, winds, cold, and largely flooded fields. They continue to live without heat, without knowing if they’ll be displaced unnecessarily, without access to basic hygiene, without their human rights being respected by the City. And while it will be truly great to have a mobile shower trailer in the city in February and ongoing, it would’ve also been great if the City had worked with people living outside, and had listened and acted on a solution to the shower crisis a year ago, last March, when the struggle for showers initially began.

FOR FURTHER READING

Mobile shower vendors:

Some media coverage of the local shower access saga:

The Payphone

The following excerpt is from the story The Payphone, first published online at Lunch Ticket, and now available as an audiobook and in print at BallsOfRice.Bandcamp.com. Artwork by Alex Murray.

 

A man wearing a navy paisley bandana and wire-frame glasses pedaled his bike to the corner, stepped over his seat, and coasted on one foot to the bike rack at the side of the liquor store. He slotted his front wheel in the rack, strode four steps over to the unsheltered public payphone, lifted the handset, inserted a quarter, dialed the number to his daughter on the east end of town, and waited. He needed to call her Tuesday, today, to see if his cheque had arrived. His watch said 4:42 p.m.

No dial tone started, nothing, until he heard an automated woman’s voice say in her cold, impersonal way, “Credit twenty-five cents. Please deposit twenty-five cents.”

The man forgot that the phone company raised the price by one-hundred percent, to fifty cents. He patted his pants pockets, checked his jacket, checked the sidewalk, even checked the pouch attached to his bicycle, and couldn’t find a quarter. He couldn’t find two dimes and a nickel. He couldn’t find anything. There was no one around for several blocks to ask for change.

“Fuck sakes!” the man cursed. He slammed the phone against the liquor store’s brick wall, breaking the earpiece off. He dropped the receiver and biked away.

Finish the story at Lunch Ticket.

Fighting For Space

The following book review of Travis Lupick‘s book Fighting For Space first appeared in Briarpatch Magazine‘s Prairie Edition, and online.

In 2002, a group of residents and advocates met at the intersection of Main and Hastings in Vancouver holding a 100-foot-long hypodermic needle made out of a giant cardboard tube, stopping traffic. They were protesting the forced closing of a needle exchange on the corner of Main and Hastings in the Downtown Eastside. Earlier, in 2001, front-line workers had distributed clean needles in a trailer outfitted with washrooms, and ensured those using in bathroom stalls didn’t overdose. Affectionately known as “the Thunder Box,” the trailer became one of North America’s first unsanctioned supervised injection sites.

These stories are among countless actions detailed in Travis Lupick’s Fighting for Space, which tells of the struggle that led to the implementation of Canada’s first official safe-injection site in Vancouver in 2003. The history of the harm reduction movement is one of direct action and protest – an “act first, ask second” attitude that was the only reasonable response to an outbreak of preventable disease and a crisis of premature deaths. Lupick focuses on the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), the groundbreaking housing non-profit that offered low-barrier housing to the city’s most vulnerable, and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the advocacy group that pushed for accessible health care and decriminalization of drug use. The two worked in tandem, with VANDU often willingly taking the heat for direct actions to protect the more diplomatic and funding-restricted Portland Hotel Society.

The history of the harm reduction movement is one of direct action and protest – an “act first, ask second” attitude.

The 1990s saw a dramatic spike in overdose deaths and high rates of HIV diagnoses in Vancouver – not unlike the current fentanyl crisis playing out across Canada. But this time the human cost is much higher, with 2017 being the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths in B.C. The strategies used by advocates on the West Coast, honed over decades of persistent work, can provide guidance for similar struggles being newly waged in neighbouring Prairie provinces like Saskatchewan, where fentanyl has killed over 40 people since 2015.

While revealing the staggering numbers of diagnoses and deaths is key to understanding the scope of the problem, it is the stories of the people who’ve lived through the harm reduction movement that makes this history real. By telling the accounts of people struggling for dignity against politicians and a public determined to dehumanize them, Lupick reinforces two basic claims of the harm reduction movement: people who use drugs are human, and all people deserve safety and health.

In one of their first organized meetings, members of the newly formed VANDU agreed that they wanted somewhere safe and healthy to spend time, a space that was free of police harassment. The Portland Hotel Society’s first residence was known as the “Hotel of Last Resort.” Simplifying their message to one of “health and safety” – one that politicians and the public couldn’t reasonably reject – has grounded all of their actions and successes in the harm reduction movement. Lupick concludes the book with an epilogue about a family — Mary, Molly, and Mikel — in a quietly triumphant story of three generations living in the Portland Hotel Society, all experiencing stability in their health and housing.

Lupick reinforces two basic claims of the harm reduction movement: people who use drugs are human, and all people deserve safety and health.

Lupick does not deify Vancouver’s advocates or their process – rather, he shows them to be people offering the simple necessities of safety and support, while working toward inclusive public health policy. He demonstrates a proven way to effectively build low-barrier health care and housing systems: through persistent action coupled with advocacy, and building partnerships with sympathetic policy-makers. Without this infrastructure, the number of overdose deaths in B.C. last year would have been much higher.

The current situation on the Prairies is nearly as dire as the one Vancouver faced in the 1990s. Saskatchewan’s HIVAIDS rates are the highest in the country, and with 79 per cent of the people newly diagnosed as HIV-positive self-identifying as Indigenous, programming must prioritize consultation with Indigenous communities. Meanwhile, harm reduction programs have been heavily stigmatized by a predominantly conservative public and openly scrutinized by political leaders. In 2009, former premier Brad Wall said his government would limit the number of clean needles handed out, despite a Saskatchewan Ministry of Health report proving the success of needle exchange programs. In 2017, The Sask. Party threatened community based organizations with a 10 per cent funding cut that would hit operations deemed not to be “core services,” like needle exchanges. Though the party eventually opted against the funding cut, when harm reduction programs are routinely among the first to be threatened, the work being done by those of the front lines is delegitimized and destabilized.

When harm reduction programs are routinely among the first to be threatened, the work being done by those of the front lines is delegitimized and destabilized.

For years, doctors, front-line workers, and advocates in Saskatchewan have been pushing for the province to declare a state of emergency regarding rising HIV rates. But if we continue to wait for a provincial government to take necessary action – especially as two newly elected party leaders wade in slowly, in a province where the health of First Nations people is systematically neglected — it may never happen. Prairie activists and front-line workers struggling through those bureaucracies must instead act upon their values and conscience to build systems of equitable health care and human services, regardless of whether they have been granted permission by the state.

Nicholas Olson is the author of A Love Hat Relationship, a photobook of collectable prairie hats; and a series of illustrated zines with accompanying audiobook narrations. More can be found at ballsofrice.com. He lives in Treaty 4 Territory.

 

Books of the Year: 2017

If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin

“Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home.”

-James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

Postcards from the End of America – Linh Dinh

Simply put, many Americans have become redundant in an economy rigged to serve the biggest banks and corporations. With no one hiring us and our small businesses bankrupted by the behemoths, many of us are forced to beg, peddle, push or steal, though on a scale that’s minuscule compared to what’s practiced by our ruling thugs. As we shove dented cans of irradiated sardines into our Dollar Store underwear, they rob us of our past, present and future.

-Linh Dinh, Postcards from the End of America, Lower-Class Upper Manhattan, p180

All Quiet On The Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

Angels – Denis Johnson

This Accident of Being Lost – Leanne Simpson

Requiem for the American Dream – Noam Chomsky

The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin

Going to Meet the Man – James Baldwin

Other Works of Note
A Love Hat Relationship
Book One
Tour Book

His Civil Worship

Another native German Heinrich, Heinrich Böll, a great writer, and I became friends even though we had once been corporals in opposing armies. I asked him once what he believed to be the basic flaw in the character of Germans, and he replied “obedience.” When I consider the ghastly orders obeyed by underlings of Columbus, or of Aztec priests supervising human sacrifices, or of senile Chinese bureaucrats wishing to silence unarmed, peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square only three years ago as I write, I have to wonder if obedience isn’t the basic flaw in most of humankind.

-Vonnegut, Sucker’s Portfolio, Episode Seven – The Last Tasmanian, p132

Hey Michael, I’m sorry that I spray painted your campaign sign in 2012. I mean, you still won. Twice even! I was young, angry. Now I’m slightly less young, still angry, but know better than to spray paint things on property that doesn’t belong to me, because I know you believe in the concept of property.

But, really, man, (I can call you man, right? We’re cool?) people who don’t believe in civil disobedience? They’re usually evil. Like dictator evil. Like Stalin evil. Either that, or they are so blinded by privilege that they couldn’t possibly understand that laws aren’t always fair. (I won’t get into the fact that laws themselves are made to uphold privilege for people who hold positions of power, like say, Mayor. We’ll get there in our relationship someday.)

And I don’t think you’re evil. Not yet, anyway.

But please don’t let my minor experimentation in vandalism sour you from civil disobedience altogether! It can be a fun act of friendship and community! Like setting up tents and having a fake campfire and making signs asking for donuts outside of the INAC building to try and help end a little thing called ‘genocide’ in Canada. Sure, Colonialism No More wasn’t illegal, but it didn’t stop your political counterparts from trying to come up with ways to make it so. I know you believe in the marvels of bureaucracy, but sometimes breaking the rules is the only way to get things done.

Civil disobedience is important. It can help people who have less rights, thanks to the laws passed in the Henry Baker Hall, to gain rights. You wouldn’t go as far to say that the segregation laws that Rosa Parks helped end for Blacks in America is illegitimate because she did it in an unlawful way, would you? Wait, so, you strictly opposed even the faintest suggestion that Regina Police Service might have issues with discrimination and racism? Well, then, maybe you wouldn’t like Rosa Parks.

I understand that as the Chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, you worry about people breaking the law. Because if regular citizens started breaking the law to stop injustice, then people like Constable Powers wouldn’t be able to break the law and get away with it too, and then, really, no one would be safe.

In a recent speech, Sylvia McAdam (you may have heard of her, but then again, maybe not), said to look up the legal connotations of the word ‘acquiescence‘. I’d heard the word before, but didn’t know what it meant.

Wikipedia: In law, acquiescence occurs when a person knowingly stands by without raising any objection to the infringement of their rights, while someone else unknowingly and without malice aforethought makes a claim on their rights.

In Sylvia’s case, sometimes ‘raising objection‘ means to actually lay on the road next to her land to stop forestry companies from logging and destroying the place where her people are buried. Because sometimes the lawmakers won’t listen, because the laws are made for the loggers. And if she didn’t stand up for her land rights, they would become someone elses’. If the place where your family was buried, or where your family played golf, or where your family played drums, was going to get torn up and ripped down, would you lay down in the road and stop them, or would you just write a letter to the Mayor?

Mr. Mayor, sometimes laws aren’t right, because sometimes (tough pill to swallow) lawmakers aren’t perfect. And sometimes, even with the aid of dollar-store posterboard and a megaphone right outside of your office on the 23rd (or whatever the hell) floor, you still can’t hear people.

So to say that you disagree with civil disobedience, means that you disagree with all the things that civil disobedience has accomplished. And if that’s the case, I worry for the state of our city, specifically for those who don’t benefit from the laws that you feel are so damn just.

Please reconsider.

Up-and-Coming

Three blocks from the venue, down an industrial street in Denver like that in any North American city that boomed in the 1950s, was a small store inside of repurposed shipping containers that sold US-made backpacks, outerwear, and slacks. The store was clean and simple and catered to the young outdoorsy types who live inside but are able to sleep in tents in exotic locations outside.

“We were one of the first businesses in this part of town,” said the shopkeeper sitting bored behind a handmade counter, hair messily gathered in a bun on the top of her head like she had just crawled out of a tent in the Rockies that surrounded her city. “Since then all sorts of businesses have opened here, which is too bad, it used to be a cheap part of town. Now there’s a luxury hotel going up just up Larimer.” The woman expresses her displeasure just as I would. I agreed as I tried on a pair of outerwear pants behind the changing curtain. Their shop and brand are participating in making the neighbourhood more expensive by selling $150USD pants, but they are at least trying to create a manufacturing industry by making their products in the USA. I left without buying pants, wondering where the nearest goodwill was.

The next day, the venue was plopped in the same part of town, only in a city that was 500 miles away, a state and a half to the east. After load-in and soundcheck, the soundman asked “Where’d you go for food? The burrito place? How was it? I heard it wasn’t that good. Yeah, this was the part of town no one would come, until my boss opened this bar and the other one, we started booking shows here, and then other businesses started coming too. It was kinda the bad part of town, now it’s the up-and-coming part of town.” At the expensive coffee joint across from the bar arcade, next to the burrito place, they were giving out a free, one-page newspaper/zine/leaflet. In it read,

“Most American cities are run by real estate interests… In Omaha, the tactic for encouraging gentrification is Tax Increment Financing or TIF. TIF is a way for cities to return tax money to developers as an incentive to put up projects that the city wants (and the public makes up the difference). Unfortunately, no provision is made for the people who used to live in the cheap housing turned into gentrified apartments. The former residents are simply scattered to the four winds. Surprised by ‘shots fired’ near 108th and Maple? This is your City gentrification policy in action.”

A similar but more developed street newspaper in Seattle uses the G-word, gentrification, describing places like Africatown in Seattle being dismembered, breaking up the “home and haven for Seattle’s Black families and businesses”, and highlighting stories of people failing to maintain housing in a rapid-rehousing program because of the recent inflation in costs of rent. Large newspapers will only use the G-word when describing vandals in Montreal or Vancouver who are terrorizing business owners, as business is the uncriticizable holy grail of progress.

I am fortunate to be able to tour with world-class musicians, but each time I’m on the road I wonder how long such jobs will exist. How long will I be paid to burn fuel and watch music in ‘up-and-coming’ parts of American cities, while around the block, that neighbourhood’s previous inhabitants are clamouring to find shelter under a bridge or in a condemned building. I do it because there’s something in music and creation that is able to be unpolluted by corporate greed, though most times it has already been bought and sold.

When people ask what I got to see this trip, Linh Dinh answers for me in his book, Postcards from the End of America, in which he visits communities across the United States left with little or no economy:

You can’t really see a city or town from a motorized anything, so if you claim to have driven through Los Angeles, for example, you haven’t seen it. The speed and protection of a car prevents you from being anywhere except inside your car, with what’s outside rushing by so fast that each face, tree, and building is rudely dismissed by the next, next and next…Like television, the private automobile was invented to wean us off our own humanity. From each, we’ve learned how to amp up our impatience and indifference towards everything, and with life itself.

 


 

After tour ends I fly home to an ailing Saskatchewan. I’d heard of the government cuts while in San Francisco, when a friend texted saying WHAT. THE. FUCK. with a link to an article about the shutting down of the province-owned small town transportation and parcel shipping company. Now home, walking through the downtown, worried citizens are passing colourful clipboards around, asking passers-by to sign one of the multitudes of petitions that are circulating to Save Our Libraries, Save our Bus System, Save our Schools. I sign them all, knowing full well that no petition will be worth the millions of dollars that the government squandered on stadiums and tax cuts on resource extraction companies. The angry protests and province-wide campaigns might get them to preserve something, but the effectiveness of these actions will only go so far if we continue to work within the system that props up corporate interest over that of the public. Though it plays into the hands of the fearmongering government and high income class, one can see why smashing windows in Montreal seems more effective.

Government MLAs show their responsibility, boasting their 3.5% paycuts, which to them means 3.5% less income to spend on boats and cottages and home renos and filet mignon. The paycuts they make to those on social assistance, the paycuts they make to those once employed by the rural transportation system, the cuts they make to the libraries, all mean that thousands of low income individuals won’t have food, shelter, a way to travel for medical treatment, books, and significantly more.

Several years ago, after seeing Chris Hedges speak at the University, I worried that Saskatchewan was the next sacrifice zone—the places that are abandoned by industry, left in disrepair and a humiliating culture of dependency after being used and left behind because of their lack of monetary worth. This could be the beginning of that reality.

It starts with the desperate government selling its struggling assets to the highest bidder, then selling its most profitable assets. They begin begging oil companies to relocate to the province to help the crumbling economy, start giving public land to large corporate bidders. At this point, entire cities and provinces will be bloated with corporate-controlled land and buildings, and towns end up, in a way, like the middle-class urban centres of post-manufacturing North American cities, where no one can afford to pay rent. Eventually, when the government isn’t coddling big business enough, they’ll pack up and move to find a different government who will subsidize their existence. Thirty years later, when our industries have died and all that’s left is cheap bars and empty buildings, businesses that pander to middle class tastes will further move into parts of town with abandoned buildings and cheap rent and begin the process of displacement of those marginalized by the loss of industry, struggling to survive in the older neighbourhoods. We are no better than the economic destruction seen in the United States, we are just a generation behind.

All that will help in the midst of a breakdown of free, communal places of existence and of the breakdown of social programs, is the creation and maintaining of communities that support one another and support the other, the different communities who are similarly affected. I am the middle class that is being pandered to, and while being in these places, eating their burritos, buying their pants, is not inherently bad, it makes it all the more imperative to support and participate in the communities that are contrary to austerity. These communities—social groups, churches, activist collectives, sports teams, artist groups, musicians—must band together to build movements that support the racialized, marginalized, the poor, Indigenous, immigrant communities, who are most harshly affected by public cuts and an economy sucked dry.

Linh Dinh, states the obvious:

For any community to be healthy, local initiatives must be encouraged, nurtured and protected, so let’s reclaim our home turf, reestablish the common, and, in the process, regain our collective sanity and dignity.

Ten Years

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It is ten years to the day that I started writing Balls of Rice.

If you read from the painfully embarassing first post, to the lost and meandering most recent post, you’d see how I went from proud flag-loving Canadian to dissident anarchist-in-training. You can see a public journal of mental health. Ten years later I still don’t know why I write, still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, still eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches for supper. All I know is that Balls of Rice has both saved my life and ruined it.

Naturally, the only posts worth reading were written in the last four years. The six years before that was trial and error, with more error than anything. These days there is less trial and about the same amount of error. The list below is not a list of the best writings, because reading over every single post could only end in crushing depression. But these ones are alright, I think.

Thanks to whoever has read this in the past decade for the encouragement. If it weren’t for you, I’d probably be a successful engineer by now. Instead I’m a squatter in the back of a pizzeria.

Thanks for still reading, mom and dad. Oh you stopped reading it in 2012?

Yeah. Me too.

 

Notable Posts:

Realistic Ideas – August 30, 2012

Losing Faith – December 2, 2012

Cheap Attempts at Warping History – April 2, 2013

Dear Mouse, – September 17, 2014

I wasn’t shot dead in the CN Railyard – December 29, 2015

Still don’t know – July 26, 2016

Still don’t know.

Di Fara Pizza

A man walks down a dark Brooklyn side street with his pants at his ankles, genitals flailing. I am looking for pizza. Legitimate conerns are raised about that man getting shot by police but we push on to get some garlic knots at Ganni’s at midnight.

The Republican convention wraps up and everyone I know, including myself, fears the next four years, but knows full well they’ll survive it. The man walking down the Brooklyn side street, the newly arrived Syrian refugees, the Central American blamed with stealing American jobs, don’t have the privilege of knowing the same thing. In Hedges’ 2010 book Death of the Liberal Class, Chomsky prophesies of a population that seeks out fascism because of a series of politicians beforehand who have sold the rights of the population to corporate power. All they need, he says, is a charismatic leader who tells it like it is. And now he warns this.


“How much is this one?” I ask.

“Which one?” the shopkeep asks.

“The all black one with gold numbers.”

“$10.” He pulls it out, puts it on my wrist, it fits and feels as though I haven’t wore a watch in fifteen years, which I haven’t.

“Great.” I place $10 on the table.

“This one is $15,” he says. I place five more dollar bills on the table and leave, feeling as though I have paid the 50% tourist tax necessary to create a balance in the inequality of wealth that I have benefited from my entire life. The tourist tax necessary to quell my own personal guilt for existing in a marketplace and quitting my community job to travel the world for free. The watch looks great and hasn’t died yet. It fits oddly on my bulging ulna bone.

I finish my $9 juice and sit on a bench, calling my credit union and credit card company to tell them that I am in fact in the US and that no, my cards have not been compromised, and that yes, I’d like to withdraw money from my accounts so I can spend more money on American juice.

I loosen the watch strap one notch to relieve the sweat that accumulates under it in the New York humidity in what will likely be the 15th consecutive hottest month on record. I bought a watch so I could avoid pulling my phone out of my pocket so I could avoid wrecking my pants pockets so I could avoid buying new pants so I could avoid buying pants from a hellish factory in south east asia. And so I could avoid using my phone at all. My vain attempts at personal change are conscience clearing but not effective. I still don’t know how to live a life that affects change or isn’t dripping in privilege. You think by 27.667 years of life you’d know everything there is to know in the world.

 

 

Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina, Saskatchewan

Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina Saskatchewan
Understanding Chronic Addiction and Responsible Public Health Practices
Nicholas Olson – Housing Support Worker – Carmichael Outreach

Background

Severe alcohol dependence is common in individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Regina, Saskatchewan. For individuals who have experienced violent or psychological trauma, alcohol is often used as a way to cope with the mental and physical pain that comes when this trauma is left untreated. Aboriginal populations overrepresent those experiencing homelessness in Saskatchewan and Canada, and many of the traumas they have experienced are directly related to unstable family settings caused by the lasting effects of residential and public schools and other programs created under colonial policy. Homeless populations have a high rate of alcohol dependence and for this reason face significant barriers to stable and safe housing, and are often unable to access shelter systems. In Regina, the few housing support programs that are willing to work with individuals with severe alcohol dependence are finding that the Housing First model is not always enough to keep individuals housed, healthy, and stable. Alcohol harm reduction is the next clear step to support Regina’s most vulnerable.

What is Alcohol Harm Reduction?

Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to reduce the harms associated with the use of alcoholic substances in people that are unable or do not desire to stop (International Harm Reduction Association). Harm reduction functions under the idea that all individuals deserve the dignity and respect to be treated in a manner that best supports them as a whole person, not just as an addict, and to be treated medically in a way that is understanding, empowering, and compassionate to their specific needs as a person experiencing an alcohol addiction. For many, the traditional abstinence model is unrealistic and does not take into account the desires of the individual who may not want, or be able, to discontinue use. Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to support the individual to live a healthy life regardless of whether they intend to become abstinent. This may be done by assisting them to consume healthy forms and volumes of alcohol through different programs tailored to the individual, supporting them to be safe during and after consumption, and working with them to maintain good health and, if desired by the individual, to reduce their alcohol consumption overall.

Alcohol Treatment

The development of Alcohol Harm Reduction through a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP), Alcohol Swap Program, Beer Co-op, and/or Prescription Alcohol is the best practice in supporting the addictions of a marginalized population in Regina primarily between the ages of 30-55. Since individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness often have fixed or no incomes, beverage alcohol is unaffordable due to the high cost of controlled substances in Saskatchewan. This, coupled with the marginalization of individuals experiencing poverty, addiction, and mental health, has made beverage alcohol even more inaccessible because these individuals are often not permitted to enter establishments that sell beverage alcohol, and in many cases are unable to even access basic health and emergency services. Non-beverage alcohol (NBA) purchased in grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies including mouthwash, hand sanitizer, hairspray, and rubbing alcohol is being consumed in large quantities because of its potency and availability.

Non-beverage alcohol can be any form of alcohol that is not fit for human consumption. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is found in beverage alcohol and is safe to consume in moderate amounts. Denatured ethanol, or alcohol denat, found in products such as mouthwash, hairspray, and some hand sanitizers, is ethanol with chemical product added to make the alcohol unfit for human consumption. The chemical additives also allow the producer to avoid the product being designated as a controlled substance. Methanol, or methyl alcohol is toxic and has caused death when consumed through hand sanitizer (CBC). Isopropyl alcohol, found in rubbing alcohol and some hand sanitizers, is toxic if ingested as well. While it is often stated that the extremely high alcohol content in non-beverage alcohol is the most toxic ingredient, with sustained use and high dosage, serious risks are present from the other toxic ingredients in each solution. Hairspray, for example, can have long term effects such as internal bleeding, kidney and liver damage, respiratory problems and death (CBC). Each receptacle of non-beverage alcohol clearly warns of the risks of consumption and strongly advises to contact poison control if consumed in any volume (Pauly 10).

Alcohol Contents and Types

Table1.1
(costs listed are based on saskliquor.com)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
1 The LCBO is recalling four brands of sherry (LONDON XXX SHERRY INCLUDED) that tested positive for a potential carcinogen. “This is not like E. coli or botulism where you’re acutely affected. To be affected by something like this, you would have to consume it for a long time for many years, so there is no risk at all,” he said. “It’s very, extremely difficult for anyone to get cancer from this type of chemical, unless you’re consuming it on [a] daily basis and you’re drinking large amounts of it.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/lcbo-recalls-sherry-for-carcinogen-risk-1.619474)

Table1.2
(costs listed based on retail prices at given locations)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
2 Medicinal Ingredients: Eucalyptol (Eucalyptus Clobulus-Leaf) 0.092%W/V, Menthol 0.042%W/V, Methyl Calicylate 0.060%W/V, Thymol 0,064%W/V
Notice: If more than used for rinsing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison control centre right away.
3 Ingredients: Aqua, Ethyl Alcohol, Denatonium Benzoate, Camphor
Notice: For External Use Only, Poison, Inflammable. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Call a physician immediately. If patient is unconscious, give them air. Danger: Harmful or fatal if swallowed.
4 Ingredients: Alcohol denat, water (aqua), acrylates copolymer, aminomenthyl propanol, fragrance, octylacrylamide/acrylates/butylaminoethyl methacrylate copolymer, PEG-12 dimethicone, tritely citrate, hydrolyzed silk, hydrolyzed keratin. Alcohol content TBD but could be between 50-70%.
5 Medicinal Ingredient: 62% Ethyl Alcohol. Non-Medicinal Ingredients: Aqua, polysorbate 20, carbomer, aminomethyl propanol, glycerin, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E acetate), denatonium benzoate.
Warnings: For external use only, do not ingest. In case of accidental ingestion contact your physician or a Poison Control Centre.

Limiting availability of these products has proven to be an ineffective means of managing the consumption of the toxic forms of alcohol, as many or all of those accustomed to drinking non-beverage alcohol regularly travel to the suburban areas of the city to purchase from larger box stores and centres where they haven’t yet been banned. When individuals don’t have to spend their energy finding their next source of alcohol and managing their withdrawal symptoms, it allows them to begin to spend that energy on developing life skills, focusing on housing, setting goals, and working on improving their overall health.

The only responsible, healthy, and compassionate way to support those who consistently consume non-beverage alcohol is to understand that in these cases abstinence is potentially a dangerous, unhealthy, and unrealistic treatment, and that reducing the harm they are causing to themselves means assisting them with the consumption of safe forms of alcohol. This can be done with Managed Alcohol Programs where individuals are given a regulated amount of alcohol at regular intervals during the day to help them deal with withdrawal symptoms and feel normal and well, Alcohol Swap Programs where individuals not necessarily receiving comprehensive housing supports can swap out certain quantities of non-beverage alcohol for beverage alcohol, a Beer Co-op where individuals are trained in proper and safe ways to brew their own alcohol for safe consumption, and Prescription Alcohol, which like a MAP, would regulate volumes and quantities based on medical assessments and administered in similar harm reduction models such as methadone. These programs, specifically MAPs, have been implemented across Canada and the US to reduce both the harms inflicted upon alcohol-dependent individuals, and the subsequent costs upon the health and justice systems.

While other potential treatments for alcohol dependence include medications such as benzodiazepines, which include diazepam, or Valium, the lifestyle and the desires of the patient must be taken into account, and for many, discontinuing alcohol use is not desired and is not a possible solution. Using diazepam as a treatment for alcohol withdrawals does not respond to the fact that many individuals would rather not discontinue alcohol use, and even with regulated and prescribed diazepam treatment, many individuals will continue to drink different forms of alcohol when it is presented to them. This would lead to an increased risk of addiction to diazepam, and a “high risk of overdose, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.”(American Addiction Centers) Benzodiazepines are also used as a short term treatment option, with only 1-2 percent of adults continuing treatment for 12 months or longer, and carry substantially higher risks of dependence and misuse in populations with a history of substance abuse (Longo). When supporting an individual living in community, monitoring all the substances that enter the home is impossible, therefore it is best to prescribe that which reduces the most risk and harm to the individual.

The harm reduction framework aims to support individuals to make healthy choices and this begins with offering assistance in managing quantities of beverage alcohol, and accessing beverage alcohol in a cost-effective manner, while at the same time being careful not to perpetuate the stigma of using non-beverage alcohols that is often present in community supports and medical services. Many populations are stigmatized even within social circles for drinking non-beverage alcohol, and this stigma is magnified in many professional health settings. Following the harm reduction framework means focusing on the needs and desires of the individual, not reducing addictions to a moral or ethical choice, and understanding the barriers that have led to less-safe alcohol consumption. It is important that harm reduction treatments are in place and practiced by health professionals, as professional knowledge is needed to create public health policy that can be safely and confidently administered by community entities.

Understanding

Each individual receiving alcohol harm reduction support will consume a different variety, style, and amount of beverage and non-beverage alcohol each day. It is important to understand what the approximate quantities of non-beverage alcohol are to ensure that the proper volume of beverage alcohol is supplied to each individual. Having a set schedule of beverage alcohol consumption would ensure that a moderated amount of alcohol is consumed, which, ideally could be lessened over time based on the desires of the individual. Clinical medical advisement through a MAP or prescription may be required to ensure that the individual is getting a safe dosage, and that an understanding of the individual’s history with addiction and their personal and traumatic history is taken into consideration. In an evaluation of a MAP in Vancouver, BC, alcohol consumption did not necessarily decline in six months for all of the participants, however the consumption of non-beverage alcohol did decline, and most participants reported improvements in mental health, social connectedness, and general well-being, and consumed alcohol in a safer setting with less harms that come from drinking large quantities at one time (Stockwell 6,7).

Below are some comparisons of alcohol contents. Though it is clear that the ethanol present in beverage alcohol is different than the types of alcohol present in non-beverage alcohol (denatured alcohol/ethanol, isopropyl alcohol) and the “high” achieved through using non-beverage alcohol would therefore be different, the comparisons below are a guideline for quantities consumed knowing that the denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol have added chemicals that are toxic for human consumption.

For example, as shown in Table 2.1, one litre (1L) of Antiseptic Mouthwash has an alcohol content of 270mL, which is equivalent to 12.5 cans (4.4L), of strong percentage beer, or nearly two bottles of a strong sherry wine. Similarly, as shown in Table 2.2, it takes nearly 10 times as much strong beer to equal the same alcohol content of 449mL that is obtained through 725mL of Hand Sanitzer Gel. While the point of alcohol harm reduction isn’t necessarily to meet the alcohol content that an individual would consume drinking non-beverage alcohol, it is important for service providers and community supports to understand just how much beverage alcohol it takes to help cope with withdrawal symptoms.

 

Table2.1-2.2

Conclusions

It is clear both to the uneducated outsider and to the affected individual that the consumption of non-beverage alcohol is extremely damaging to one’s physical and mental health. By offering support to individuals in their addiction through alcohol harm reduction programs, the dignity of these individuals is upheld as they are receiving compassionate medical treatment that views them as a whole person. Through these programs, these individuals would be able to access supports that are often only accessible to less-stigmatized populations, including detoxification programs that in Regina are inaccessible to many with reduced mobility and high physical needs.

Access to inexpensive, clinically regulated and adequately strong forms of beverage alcohol is key to the physical and mental health and well-being of the individual. Regulated quantities of alcohol must be customized to each individual based on their own personal symptoms and histories. While having professional medical advice involved is clearly the best practice, disallowing access to safe forms of alcohol because of lack of confirmed policy is irresponsible and lacks the compassion necessary in the human services sector and in a responsible community.

Policy driven by the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, monitored and planned by medical professionals, delivered by community organizations, and tailored to the needs of the individual are imperative to the success of an alcohol harm reduction program, and the timely nature of its implementation is extremely important to ensure the safety, health, and survival of a large population of vulnerable people. A responsible community and health region would not allow the continued consumption of controlled poison when clear, simple, and practical alternatives exist.

Sources
International Harm Reduction Association, What is harm reduction?, http://www.ihra.net/what-is-harm-reduction
CBC News, Hand sanitizer ingestion linked to 2 Ontario deaths, Oct 25, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/hand-sanitizer-ingestion-linked-to-2-ontario-deaths-1.2252046)
CBC News, Hairspray abuse plagues northern town, Feb 16, 2001, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hairspray-abuse-plagues-northern-town-1.293513
Pauly, B., Stockwell, T., Chow, C., Gray, E., Krysowaty, B., Vallance, K., Zhao, J. & Perkin, K. (2013) Towards alcohol harm reduction: Preliminary results from an evaluation of a Canadian managed alcohol program. Victoria, BC: Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia.
Carnahan RM, Kutscher EC, Obritsch MD, Rasmussen LD. Acute ethanol
intoxication after consumption of hairspray. Pharmacotherapy. 2005 Nov;25(11):1646-50. PubMed PMID: 16232026.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16232026?report=docsum
American Addiction Centers, Dangers in Mixing Valium and Alcohol or Drugs, http://americanaddictioncenters.org/valium-treatment/dangers/
Longo LP, Johnson B., Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines–side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 1;61(7):2121-8. Review.,
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2121.html
Stockwell, T., Pauly, B., Chow, C., Vallance, K., Perkin, K. (2013). Evaluation of a managed alcohol program in Vancouver, BC: Early findings and reflections on alcohol harm reduction. CARBC Bulletin #9, Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria
http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/carbc/assets/docs/bulletin9-evaluation-managed-alcohol-program.pdf

Season of the Badlands

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The following was originally published with photos in Of Land & Living Skies: A Community Journal on Place, Land, and Learning. For more interesting content and events, consider becoming a Sask Outdoors member at SaskOutdoors.orgDigital magazine available here.

Just west of the yard in a field of summer fallow is a rock. Its existence alone isn’t remarkable; there are a multitude of rocks in the dirt around Horse Creek. All over the prairies there are rock piles, decades or centuries of rounded stones the size of softballs or buffalo skulls or lawnmowers, stacked as monuments to the neighbouring broken earth. But the rock west of the yard, picked out of the ground to clear the way for tilling, ended up being the size of a small car. Forty paces from the road it looks substantial but unremarkable; flat and several feet high, grey brown, leaning back with a salute to the sky, the remaining clover hissing at its base. But the illusion disappears when it is approached. It juts out significantly, looking like the missing nose of the Sphinx. A nearly immovable object, even with all the trucks and tractors around, because of its size and the damage it would do to the road and the ditch. It would look good in the garden but the force needed to move it is a force we do not have. So there it sits.

My grandma was born in Horse Creek. I never knew this until a week before I headed there myself. Horse Creek is located on Treaty 4 Territory, seventeen miles south of McCord, 110 miles southwest of Swift Current and just sixteen miles as the crow flies from the American border. If you look for it on a map or even the internet, you may not find it. In a time of unions and co-operatives, grandma’s father was a carpenter in Horse Creek for her first year of life. Last November, I was in Horse Creek holding tape measures and nailing boards and starting my own imaginary union to provoke my anti-union, farming friends.

Much of that summer was spent exploring the badlands of southern Saskatchewan. The first weekend of spring meant camping with three friends at Grasslands National Park, which shares the same hill ranges as Horse Creek. In 4x4s we were guided through pastures and down ravines to Storey Lowell’s, the local folklore touting it as an early hideout for horse rustlers, when it is more modestly two adobe shacks that made the home of an old homesteader. Later we hiked in at McGowan’s Visitor Centre and camped in a coulee just steps from the moon-like landscape of dirt and cliff. Before darkness settled we walked to the highest point in sight, overlooking the crumbling badlands, with heavy clouds and bursting light advancing from the south sky. Walking back in the heavy showers we purposefully searched out the storied quicksand piles by tossing rocks on odd looking pieces of dirt, then toeing them, then stepping on them, then stomping on them, tempting our fate for a movie-like reaction from the earth. We never found any quicksand.

Later in summer we visited Castle Butte, a massive ice-age-created structure of sandstone and clay reaching to the sky of the Big Muddy. A few miles from there we navigated to Buffalo Effigy, the flat outline of rocks which shape a buffalo on the highest hill around——a sacred site now part of a pasture, luckily fenced off and somewhat preserved. A few weeks later we camped at St. Victor Petroglyph Park, timeworn carvings on horizontal rock on the top of another highest hill in the area. These three sites of identity and significance to the First Peoples, all purposefully placed on top of the highest of hills, existed long before my maternal grandparents settled in the area——around Harptree, Brooking, Radville——and began creating their own monuments in picked rock piles and homesteads.

IMG_5447

In the snow-covered shortgrass prairie of Horse Creek, I attempted to experience the ranching and farming life in which my family was once rooted. I picked bales and fixed fence and tried to be useful. When on break, to bolster my writing craft, I urinated poems into the snow in cursive.

When heading south to move lumber or check on cows it looked as though the clouds that rested on the hills that enclose the badlands were the end of the world, which in my own way, is the truth. The badlands are dead land and past them is a barbed wire pasture fence that is patrolled with drones and satellites of the American border guard. Other border-adjacent land is sold off to multinational companies scavenging for oil whose only identity in the land they own is corporate identity. The end of the world and the end of identity exists in deserts and robots and contracts.

I have a vested interest in preserving this land from such ominous ends because I feel connected to it in some vague, flaky kind of way. My friend who has lived here his whole life and whose family has farmed it for a century offers the same. Giving up his land would be the last thing he would do, and because of his connection to the land he acknowledges that he knows to some extent what it might have felt like when the settlers came. I identify with the land that sits atop the badlands because of personal history, but this land does not identify with me any more than it identifies with the farmers or ranchers or indigenous peoples or the Queen who leases it out or that rock west of the yard.

The connection felt from being on the land, from spending time caring for it and working it, is universal and real. I am not entitled to this land, nor is any one person or group of people. Instead the land has an entitlement to be inhabited by people who identify with it, because those who identify with the land are more apt to treat it as it ought to be treated.

To be an asset to the land, to be the type of person that the land is entitled to, I learn as much as I can about how it works and how to live well on it. About all its intricacies of connectedness, which offer lessons of how to exist and how to relate. Like the rock west of the yard, I am not out of place standing alone on the prairie, I only look that way when I am dug up from the city and thrown naked in a field. Like the rock, my ancestral composition lies in the soil, just as everyone else.

Each time I visit the badlands and hills adjacent I seek out the highest geographical point possible——to feel the wind’s unmitigated power or to fully realize the thunderstorm that approaches. Monuments that mark time, the carvings and effigies and buttes of the area, are locations of height for a reason. They are standing points that we revisit to watch the thunderstorm of the future steadily move in. The easiest place to keep your feet grounded for change and resistance is in community and identity. Strengthening our connection with these highest places is the only way to ensure the thunderstorm doesn’t come in and drown us all out and to ensure that when we are walking home, we see the pits of quicksand that would otherwise swallow us up.

I drove out of the yard and left the farm behind with a year of vagrancy and foreign experiences on the horizon. The rock west of the yard sat silent with the ice fog painted low in the background. The rock will quite likely be there when I get back.

To look just on the surface, and think that what you see from horizon to horizon is all that is needed to survive, is to misunderstand your place on the ground which you stand. To scale its heights-to learn its lessons—one must be alive to the underlying structures that support the visible and not-so-visible world around you.

-John Borrows (Kegedonce), Drawing Out Law: A Spirit’s Guide (University of Toronto Press, 2010, p72)