There was a minor shitstorm yesterday about some comments I made on twitter that some people found offensive and mocking in tone. People were demanding an apology to what they felt were my insensitive comments about the societal woes of living and working in a city that has it’s rough edges and also has been the final resting place for the province’s poor, infirm and other folks living along the edges of society.
For folks who don’t live in Hamilton, Ontario, let’s just say that Hamilton was once a proud city with a large industrial base which provided well-paying jobs to people. These jobs were often in heavy industries, which takes a toll on the bodies and psyches of its workers. Traditionally, there has always been a large number of jobs for unskilled workers, so Hamilton also often became the end destination for people leaving the province’s hospital, psychiatric and prison systems to get a new start on life. The city, particularly the ward in which I live in, has a higher than average density of halfway houses, rooming houses and group homes where people who are trying to integrate back into “normal” society are trying to eke out an existance.
However with globilization trends and the recent recession (come on folks, let’s call it what it is – a depression) industry in Hamilton has dried up and what jobs that exist for unskilled labourers tend to be unstable and extremely low paying. Despite fewer available jobs, the provincial and Canadian governments keeps on filtering people into Hamilton, not to mention normal population growth.
So the city of Hamilton seems to have a higher than normal population of people who are on welfare, disability, worker’s compensation and pension benefits. All of this population receive their monthly payments on the last three days of each month, so there tends to be an increase in business, social activity and traffic on those three days.
I moved into this city over ten years ago and accepted this fact. When my employer transferred me from the head office in Toronto to our Hamilton district office, which is located right in the downtown mall, it was a mixed blessing as my daily commute suddenly went from two plus hours a day to 10-45 minutes, depending on if I walked, rode my bike or took the bus.
My comments on twitter were a message to a local police officer who is quite active on twitter and I commented on how lively his impending shift would be:
@hentor: should be a fun cheque day for Hamilton Police – dude w/no pants smoking in front of Delta Bingo.
Indeed, there was a guy wearing only a t-shirt and flip flops, sitting with his bare ass on the filthy sidewalk in front of the bingo hall on Hamilton’s main drag! This was followed by:
@hentor: Cheque day in
#HamOnt = never a dull moment!
The first response received was from a disability pensioner that he would, indeed be wearing pants. To which I replied that DH was on disability and when I left him, he was wearing shorts!
However a number of people took offense to these comments and found them mocking and intolerant. Calling me out publically and privately. The following tweet was the nicest response I received:
“I love your tweets normally, but all the talk and retweets about cheque day read as mocking and, frankly, mean.”
It was followed up by a comment about while being on the “front lines” can be harrowing and honesty is appreciated, compassion should rule over mocking. I replied directly to this tweet saying:
@hentor: apologies to folks for offending but the last 3 days of the month tend to be intense & interesting for downtowners
@hentor: Sorry to folks who find my attitudes mocking, however I feel I should be able to walk my city streets without fear of being mugged/harassed
@hentor: But for 1-3 days a month, I can’t go to the bank machine or walk to work without being asked for money, a smoke, drugs or to pay for sex…
@hentor: So if I seem jaded and mocking, forgive me, but I can’t blame my city for this…it’s a combination of things
Stating a fact – that on welfare cheque day, there was a man wearing only a pair of flip flops and a t-shirt sitting on a particularly filthy stretch of sidewalk I wouldn’t touch with gloved hands – is NOT mocking. It is merely stating a fact. I’d have compassion for this person, if it weren’t for the fact that he is out there ON A MONTHLY BASIS doing something equally as questionable and anti-social.
Over the ten years I have lived, worked and played in this city, I have noticed some trends that were at first annoying but are now becoming increasingly disturbing to me:
- For those specific 1-3 days a month, it is impossible to go to the bank machine or walk to work without being asked for money, a smoke, drugs or to pay for sex.
- During those specific 1-3 days a month, the mall in which my office is located has to bring on increased security, remove benches and garbage cans, and the liquor store at one end has to hire private security and off-duty police to ensure that law and order is kept and no one loiters too long.
- During those specific 1-3 days a month, littering, tagging, graffiti, petty arson (particularly on garbage day) and other property damage noticably increases. I know of several businesses who have literally contracted industrial cleaners to clean (powerwash and scrub) their sidewalks on the second day of the month in order to clean up the mess left after.
Recently, certain events have impacted me directly. ALL of them occurred on the 1-3 “cheque days” at the end of the month since the start of 2012:
- I’ve been mugged for my bus pass.
- I’ve had people ask me for money while I was AT a bank machine (there’s a law about that, however security and police never seem to be around).
- I’ve been physically assaulted en route to work when I didn’t have a cigarette (I don’t smoke) or money to give a person. The person who did this had a fresh tattoo, a deck of cigarettes, piercings and freshly dyed hair. So we know what he spent his money on.
- I’ve been puked on in the mall at work by someone who was over-served at a mall bar.
- A person urinated in the vestibule of my office building. One garbage can in the mall was removed as a specific homeless (possibly mentally ill) person repeatedly used it to defecate in. Said person responded by defecating on an open staircase close to the food court and library.
Living and working in the inner city, one gets to “know” the regular denizens of the downtown core. These people tend to congregate and chat amongst themselves and, for the most part, behave themselves. However for the 1-3 days a month where the welfare, pension, disability, compensation cheques are distributed – I’m going to be honest with you – downtown Hamilton is a total shit show and a generally unpleasant place to be.
Increased traffic, increased loitering, more trash in the street, more drunks at the bars, people lined up outside the liquor store HOURS before it is open. Now I know a number of these people have illnesses that may inhibit their functioning in a society, however a good amount of it seems to be due to a lack of consideration for others. Let’s be honest, a LOT of these people are grown adults, they are subject to the same laws and regulations as everyone else and they have been through the same education system that everyone else has.
These are my personal experiences over ten years of living and working in downtown Hamilton. I stand by them and will not apologise for my opinions stemming from them folks. If you disagree, then I’ll support your right to disagree, but give me a good argument, don’t just say I’m wrong or the ever popular “fuck you, intolerant, classist asshole!”
I preface my following comments with the fact that I am a benefits administrator for a social service for my provincial government. I took this job so I can help folks who are truly in need of assistance to get them through a difficult stage in their lives. However nothing pisses me off more than folks who are looking for a free ride or hand out.
While I believe in helping folks who DO need the help, I also can’t support folks who are in the system because it beats working and they are mired in generations of relying on society to take care of them. I’m tired of watching the young ladies, with multiple young children, sitting and smoking outside the mall my office is in. These ladies are there socializing before I enter the building and they are there when I leave the building. If they aren’t there, they’re taking their kids to Tim Hortons or Mc Donalds or are up with their boyfriend du jour, making out in the rooftop garden, while their children watch.
Why aren’t they getting an education or job training with childcare support?
Unfortunately our social support systems also tend to be an “all or nothing” affair, where disabled folks either have to be entirely unable to work and on assistance or able to work period with no help. I know of a lot of folks on disability, who are medically incapable of holding down a full-time job with benefits, but would be willing to work part time in order to help support themselves, unfortunately the system does not allow that.
When the Harris goverment came up with workfare, I was happy, as it was working to able-bodied people who were on social assistance and connecting them with jobs and appropriate training. Unfortunately a lot of people object to this and feel that folks should be coddled. Let’s help the folks who need it and stop protecting and babying those who misbehave, they are adults and should accept responsibility for their actions in my opinions.
Let’s have them start by cleaning up the city in which they live and showing some civic and personal pride.