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July 07, 2010

Salt Spring's Paupers In Paradise

Someone came into the office today and said, "I've found a place to live. It's a garden shed. One step towards the first world," he said with a wry laugh.

But, in fact, he was happy. He even looked happier. "It's all relative," I thought realizing how wrong that thought was in this instance when it comes to people having some place to live that has electricity and a bathroom and a kitchen.

He had a place to put his stuff which, from what I've seen, consists of what he can put in a large knapsack and a sleeping bag.
"Is it a dirt floor?" I ask.
"No, it's raised," he said.
"Do you have a bed?"
"I have a sleeping bag," he said.
"Maybe I could get you a housewarming gift," I said, half seriously which might seem a bit cold and crass but I've been seeing this guy every day for almost 2 years in the office so I can talk to him like that and he gets my humour.

"What would you like? Do you have a flashlight?
"How about a padlock?" he said.

Just a few hours earlier the day started off with a different story.

"Did you know there's a castle on the island?" said the taxi driver with the Class 1 licence who has to leave soon because he isn't making enough money driving cab in spite of working 70 hour weeks.

"I just picked the guy up from Salt Spring Air. Drove him straight up Mount Belcher. He's from Ireland. A doctor. 10,000 square feet."

"Does it look like a castle?" I said.
"It's amazing. I was standing on the deck and you can see Mount Baker and the Lions and everything," he said.

"Does he live there all by himself?," I ask, not able to contain the disdain in my voice.
"What does he need 10,000 square feet for?"  The kitchen's 3,000 square feet he said and I wondered if that figure could possibly be accurate.

"Well, at least it was nice of him to let you  go inside and take a look," I said as a concessionary afterthought.

Someone really needs to organize a home and garden tour of the amazing homes and gardens on this island, sell tickets and make a lot of money to raise money for social housing. But, even if they did, the Islands Trust might not permit it and even they did permit it, they might still be discussing it a decade from now even though the housing crisis has been around for longer than a decade past. Islanders for self government are barking out the wrong message. It's not islanders for self government. It should be Islanders for the ethical treatment of people.

Even the social housing here costs way too much  if the figures I've heard are accurate. A two bedroom at Murakami Gardens (a 3-story apartment block) that's designated as social housing costs $845 per month. Who can afford that when they're broke and making $10 an hour?

When long-time resident Richard Murakami donated land in the middle of Ganges, he was being generous and his heart was in the right place, but from what I've heard, the outcome has been a bit of a failure. Murakami Gardens costs too much. There are too many problems because of the behaviours of the people who end up living there and in general, the concept has gone seriously sideways in reality.

I had someone come in and tell me a story a month or two ago.
She was out with a friend. He dropped her off down the block instead of in front of Murakami Gardens where she lives.
She said, What are you doing? Why aren't you dropping me off in front of my place?"
"I'm not going near 'the projects'" he said.

"The Projects? What are you talking about? Are you referring to where I live as 'the projects,' she said. "I couldn't believe he said that."

 "It's disgusting! I have a 14 year old daughter. There's people openly doing drugs. You hear people yelling. The cops come at least once a week."

"When my 14 year old daughter comes in the main door she stops and listens to see if anyone is in the hall and then she runs to our door. That's not what Richard Murakami had in mind. It's a disgrace that his idea and good intent with his name on it has turned into what it is. I have to get out of there. I can't stand it. They're not strict enough. They keep giving people 2nd and 3rd chances when they should just be out the door."

While people with houses are sitting in their marble countertopped kitchens sipping their Lattes and putting their sirloin on their gas grills, too many people are living in absolute squalor exhausted from surviving day by day, tired of moving in hopes of finding a decent landlord and a place that doesn't have excessive mould or mildew beaten down from the day job that pays somewhere between $8.00 and $15.00 per hour, typically part-time.

I'm sure there are people who think, too bad. It's costly to live in Paradise. And, that's true except at some point they'll be the only one's here. Then, who'll be left to serve them dinner at Hastings House, do the dishes, clean their houses, pick up their garbage, groom their precious pooches and dare I say it, wipe their 85-year-old tattooed asses when they forget why it is they accummulated all that stuff that wouldn't fit into the single box of a room they live in and can't find their way back to from the dining area?

1 comment:

Susan said...

What incredible contrasts our world contains. Good stories here...