The following will be released in the first edition of Rise Up, a free street newspaper available in Regina, Saskatchewan in January 2012.
Of the past five years that I have been free from the confines of high school education, I have spent approximately two-thirds of my time away from my hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan, the motherly city that always welcomes me back. I have been fortunate enough to be one of the few people in the world that has the means to save money to travel. To see the street food stands of Korea, to ride the blue trains of India, to watch soccer games in Mexico. I have also been lucky enough to have a home and a family to which I can return after such adventures, and friends that give me employment and rooms to rent so that I can save up more money to further travel and again leave the tender arms of my fair home.
As is inevitable with any sort of travel, third-world or not, one sees the absolute contrast between the excessiveness of wealth and the inadequacies of poverty. The gap between the wealthy and the poor classes in India is obvious on any city street, but not openly discussed or even talked about as something that has the potential to change. Living in a poorer area of Montreal for a year and a half, one can see the difficulty for small immigrant families and local residents to function in a large city setting. Travelling throughout America by bus, one sees the neighbourhoods that house Greyhound bus stations in giant cities, places falling apart because of several years of recession. Staying in homes and hostels in Mexico, the country is obviously exhausted of a system that allows the rest of North America to take advantage of it for its natural beauty and drug-trafficking, leaving a tourist-pillaged people and nation. After two years away, I never expected to return to Regina, my place of privilege and opportunity, to see a housing situation equally as grave as any of the metropolises in North America. A vacancy rate of below zero that is not improving, and the lack of vision for affordable housing are crises deemed less urgent in comparison to other places, possibly due to a lower population of the city and province, but are no less serious. In one of the few places in the world that was not seriously damaged by the past several years of economic decline, we see misplaced development into more shopping complexes and chain restaurants with little development of necessary infrastructure. The present wealth of our province should eradicate homelessness, just as the wealth of our nation and other Western nations should guarantee fair and equal food and wealth distribution worldwide. The key word being should. Because of a flawed system of bureaucracy, and insatiable, power-hungry leaders, suburban centres pop up overnight while city centres further dilapidate.
Supporting organizations such as the Carmichael Outreach and Souls Harbour, and by talking with City Council members, MLAs and MPs, the privileged public can communicate that these are not just issues of the poor in certain neighbourhoods, but that they are issues that involve any member of Regina, a city that is in essence one large community. It is not enough to say that we disagree with poverty, any person with the semblance of a soul would say this, but it is necessary to communicate that we aren’t content to sit around as a resource-rich government ignores the immense need for affordable housing, improved schools and better family and child care.
If I were ever to designate a place to call home, Regina would likely be it. And although I haven’t been directly hit by the housing crisis in Regina, as I couchsurf and rent out basements of friends who have grown tired of a saturated rental market and overpriced shack-like apartments, it still feels like a member of my family is being abused and neglected. Like my grandpa is the Plains Hotel being kicked out of his downtown home so that Brad Wall and Pat Fiacco can continue the gentrification of Regina by selling the land to oil-rich Calgary investors, building condominiums for a large unknown population of upperclass businessmen that want to inhabit the modest capital city. Then, when my grandfather begins to look for a new place to live, he finds that even though the government has enough of a surplus to kick him out and build a $100-million condo/hotel, they don’t have enough surplus to give him an affordable, or even available, apartment to rent to rest his ‘Plains’ aging bones. This place that I would designate as ‘home’ is fighting through a housing crisis, and although it may not seem as severe as the one facing the inhabitants of India, or as widespread as the decay of cities across America, it cannot be overlooked. And as my motherly home of Regina aches for help, she can at least take solace in the fact that although her serious wounds are generally still untreated, they are starting to be talked about.
Please contact your city councillor, MLA and MP at the links below to tell them of your concern with the current system.