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October, 2011:

The Criminalization of Homelessness

This column by Barbara Ehrenreich just killed me inside.

The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible "financial products," leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Walmart.

As it turned out, the captains of the new "casino economy"—the stock brokers and investment bankers—were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed "broken windows" or "quality of life" ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look "indigent," in public spaces.

No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown—the deaths from cold and exposure—but "Criminalizing Crisis" offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina:

During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be "squatting." In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child.

Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually tent cities, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules—such as no drugs, weapons, or violence—enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish indignados, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.

There is nothing "political" about these settlements of the homeless—no signs denouncing greed or visits from left-wing luminaries—but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the "American autumn." LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Ohio, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker explained the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying: "The city will not tolerate a tent city. That’s been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight."

What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born "illegals," facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.

Here are my issues and some ideas of what we can do tackle them.

At work every place I can put a bed, I have put a bed.  When I started five years ago, there would be 20 guys in the shelter some nights, many in private rooms.  Now we have 70 in there.  Our lounge space is designed for maybe 15 people.  We open up our dining room in the evening for additional space.  We also have to shut down the dorms during the day so we can clean.  As tough as it is, we need to shut down to get the guys up in the morning and get working towards moving out of the shelter.  If we don’t have a shut down time, some of our clients would simply stay in bed when what they need to be doing is heading to Social Services, heading to day labour or looking for work (while day labour is hard, most find permanent jobs while working there) or out looking for an apartment.  You would be surprised at the amount of guys that just want society to take care of them for the rest of their life and they need to be motivated to move along. 

On top of that is that we have two janitors who are cleaning all of the time.  Beds need to changed, linen has to be washed, floors have to washed and a lot of garbage has to be dealt with and the line between personal belongings and garbage is a fine line.  There is hidden vodka to be found (and tossed) and drugs to be found and disposed of.  If we had adequate lounge space, this wouldn’t be a problem but it is.

We do make accommodations if the weather is bad… if it is too crappy for the staff to go for a walk, it’s too bad for our clients and during the cold, it’s announced the day before so there is no stress over us being closed.  The same thing if guys are sick.  The flu is a part of life and we don’t make guys get doctor’s notes but if a guy is sick for a couple of days, we send him to the doctor for his own sake if he is not making an improvement.

Washrooms are another issue.  We don’t have public washrooms except during meal times.  Over the years we have people shooting up in our washrooms, hiding knives, drinking alcohol, drinking hand sanitizer, and even having sex (don’t ask, it brings back a lot of trauma).  We could open it up more but then I need to hire more staff to clean it and sadly supervise it.  Some staff let people come in and use the chapel washroom but I can’t count how many needles we have pulled out of there.  There has been crap on the walls, doors, and roof during that time and it’s just vandalism but it’s a huge issue.  Our one washroom has a wall covering that you need a diamond drill to get through and that was because it was just destroyed and that was during meal times.  I have heard a plumber’s snake grind through the flushed needles and the clogs that come with it.  I understand why people don’t want to open their washrooms up to the public.  Yet at the same time where is the nearest public washroom?  Midtown Plaza?  Tim Horton’s?  We tend to open it if we know the person but then we have people yelling at us for favouritism. 

While I can’t change the architecture of where I work, I can change some of the policies and procedures to make things easier for those that are homeless.  Last month I met with CUMFI about the problem of those being outside in winter.  Here is what I am trying to do about it.

  • For those that are cold and outside and don’t want to come in for shelter services, we are opening our lounge and using it for an all night drop in spot for homeless men and women.  Yes there will be coffee (decaf), soup, sandwiches, and maybe some KD.  If we can move a person into a shelter bed, we will.  If not, we are cool to do it on their time.  I had a client live for a year in the parking lot of the Centre.  I used to bring him coffee in the morning.  Every day we would chat until he was read to move inside.  It eventually happened (and then we screwed up and he moved out but he came back a couple of days later) and he has been a big part of our community and life since then.
  • Staff will be expanding the hours of our clothes cave for winter gear.  They do this anyways but it sounds impressive when I write it down.  This way if someone needs winter clothes, they can get winter clothes.
  • Making it easier to get free meals and making it easier for select agencies to refer people for free meals.  For men and women on the street and are hungry, we will find a way to get some calories in them no matter what time of the day it is.
  • We are giving The Lighthouse some of our mats so they have extra capacity (that we will fill).  We have a great relationship with The Lighthouse and any way we can help them, we will.  We know that they will do (and have done) the same for us.
  • We are working with the Saskatoon Police on ways we can relieve some of the pressure on their drunk tank.  We can’t do a lot but hopefully we can work together at making sure those that are manageably drunk can have a place to sleep as Larson House often fills up at 2:00 p.m.  This isn’t a change as the Saskatoon Police Service has always done a good job in bringing in cold and almost frozen men and women for help but we are doing an education piece for them so they understand what we can do.  Police officers in the past have actually offered to pay for guys to stay with us which is nice but totally unnecessary.  It does speak to the degree that officers do care about homeless men and women in Saskatoon and we want to make sure that they know of all of the resources they have at their disposal.  One thing that I have learned is that the one bit of information that I need as a frontline worker may not always get to me and if an officer has that information and can give it to me which helps us make a better decision or a referral based on his/her knowledge of the client and resources, we all come out ahead.
  • Doing a survey of abandoned buildings.  This one could get me in trouble but when it is –40, men come to us who are on what is called Transitional Employment Allowance or TEA for short.  TEA is a government of Saskatchewan program that is designed to transition you from one job to another.  It works but it also means you don’t get emergency services so if you are homeless, Social Services won’t help you.  It’s messed up that way.  For years I could never figure it out why they only came in when it was extreme weather and then it clicked in, you can stay warm in an abandoned apartment building at –20 with blankets but not at –40.  We started to ask and that is exactly what it was.  I am not sure what I am going to do with this information since disclosing it could hurt guys even more but I hate the idea that because of a stupid Government of Saskatchewan policy, people can freeze to death.
  • Expanding our data collection on the causes and geography of homelessness.  In Saskatchewan, all anyone cares about is our bed count.   That’s all I get asked.  Vacancy rates which only tells a small part of the story and ignores the problems behind why they are using the shelter.  I don’t know how to tell that story… well I do but not well and that kind of irritates me.

I am not happy with the solutions but they make the best use of limited resources and hopefully it will make a difference to those on the streets at night.  We have a long way to go and if you want to help, send me an email.

Column: Change calls for more than talk

In this week’s The StarPhoenix

A couple of years ago, I found a video documentary series posted on YouTube by actor Sam Slovick.

He was living on skid row in Los Angeles and decided to film some of the madness he saw daily. There are knife fights, other violence and drug deals interspersed among stories from police, former drug dealers and people trying to make a difference. If you want to see it, search for Sam Slovick and skid row on YouTube; it’s well worth viewing.

At the end of the series, Slovick asks what can we do about it? His solution is: "We can talk about it, write about it, blog about it, chat about it, pray about it, call your representative."

That’s it? There has to be more than talking about it. Is the problem so big that we can’t do anything other than talk?

As the Occupy Wall Street protests move into their second month, they show the protesters’ frustration and rage at the top one per cent whom they feel controls the world. A recent survey of the protesters on Wall Street shows that many are dissatisfied Democrats.

Many of these protesters believe that civil disobedience and violence are ways to achieve their goals of wealth redistribution. To achieve these goals, they feel the best strategy is to camp out on Wall Street and chant slogans at police officers. I’m not so sure.

The movement has spread across United States and the world. Occupy Saskatoon protesters are a diverse mix of people protesting against everything from lack of food security to the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board to high student loans. They have chosen Friendship Park as a base to occupy for a week, but I am still not sure what it is accomplishing.

Again, does just talking about a problem solve much? Like most protests, it is a realization by some that the future doesn’t look good. They feel powerless to change things through traditional channels, so people protest.

There has to be a better option than awareness. In Canada we have always changed the process from within. It’s how our country was founded. I’m not saying that democracy is perfect here and money does speak loudly. However, so do our votes; but for some reason we seem less and less inclined to use the ballot box.

In 2009, we elected city councillors and our mayor with only 27.3 per cent of voters turning out. I am sure the 72.7 per cent of you who didn’t vote thought that it doesn’t make a difference, but nothing touches our lives like civic politics.

Recently, city council decided to change the nature of my neighbourhood by acting to calm and change traffic patterns. Later in the meeting councillors decided to change the look and feel of the Montgomery area with the installation of a tall wind turbine.

One meeting. Two pretty big changes. Those votes do matter.

It’s not just our votes. There are other ways to get involved that give direction to the city. Local Area Plans – documents prepared by the neighbourhoods and Saskatoon city planners – set out a long-term plan for a neighbourhood. For those of you who are cynical about the process, check out what Riversdale has accomplished.

The process, which started in 2004, has helped start 30 projects that have improved the quality of life in the neighbourhood. There is a long way to go, but it’s been an impressive start. The 180-page reports list more than 100 individuals and groups who contributed to it. Their neighbourhoods and Saskatoon are better for it.

If you don’t think voting and neighbourhood consultations are enough, run for elected office. Political history shows that many candidates run from outside the establishment circles and go on to win. Who predicted that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi would win?

At the start of his campaign I wonder if even he did.

Mayor Don Atchison came from behind to win in 2003. Anything can happen during a campaign.

If politics bores you, look at the work of a local charity named Nashi, which was organized around a kitchen table in 2004 with the intent of helping those caught up in the sex trade in Ukraine.

Seven years later, this group has purchased, renovated, and expanded a safe house in Ukraine, and helps countless women. Nashi is also building what could become a national organization to fight the trafficking of women and children.

I want to be supportive of the protesters on Wall Street and at Friendship Park, but the solutions aren’t going to be found in occupying the problem but in implementing the solutions.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

The weekend

Wendy writes about our weekend on the cabin weblog.  It was a weekend of good books, Chuck E. Cheese, some lacrosse, coffee, and a dog that wouldn’t get out of the bed and a son that wouldn’t stop trying to get back in.  Oh right, this happened.

As you can see, it was going good and as I was trying to get a cute video for Wendy, it all went horribly wrong.  Oliver got some sand up his nose but other than that, he was okay.

Tebow won but Sparano has to be fired

First the good news.  Tim Tebow lead the Denver Broncos to a win over the Miami Dolphins.  He looked horrible for 55 minutes, good for 5 and got the win.  The bad news has to be for Miami coach Tony Sparano as he lost to Tim Tebow and an untalented Denver Broncos team, his owner doesn’t support him and his starting QB is Matt Moore.  I don’t know how he isn’t fired in the next week.  If I am Sprarano, part of me would be relieved.  He will do some television on NFL Network if he let go and you have to think that a team will hire him as an offensive coordinator next year and hopefully it will be for an owner that isn’t an idiot.  Part of Sparano’s problem has been that he comes from a three yards and a cloud of dust system his entire career (it ain’t pretty but it works) and now he has an owner that wants Showtime.  It’s not going to happen.

Occupy Saskatoon

After reading a media report that Occupy Saskatoon were housing all sorts of homeless people at Friendship Park, myself, Wendy, and Bert (our caseworker) wandered down their protest.  There was only one homeless person being helped and he wasn’t around so we chatted a bit, took some photos, and then I had to head back for a management meeting at the Centre.

While I agree with some of their ideas, sitting around in cooking hotdogs in a park isn’t solving any of them.  There website has all of this revolutionary images while at the same time the protest itself is… well… an urban camping trip. 

Occupy Saskatoon… brought to you by Coleman and The North Face.

The Bank of Starbucks

I loved this entire article, from idea to even how he came up with the idea.

Starbucks is going to create a mechanism that will allow us citizens to do what the government and the banks won’t: lend money to small businesses. This mechanism is scheduled to be rolled out on Nov. 1. This time, Schultz is not tilting at windmills.

From the start, Schultz’s crusade has been focused on the need for jobs, or, as he likes to say, “the jobs emergency.” Should the government finance a sustained infrastructure program to create jobs? Of course. Should it give tax breaks to companies that hire the unemployed? Yes again. But with an election coming up, nothing of the sort is likely.

With the government a nonfactor, Schultz began mulling other ideas. He knew that small businesses created most new jobs, but that many small businesspeople couldn’t hire because they had lost access to credit after the financial crisis. He thought about Starbucks’s involvement in microlending programs in some of the countries where it bought coffee. He wondered if there was some way that that could be applied to small business lending in this country. Finally, he thought about the nearly 7,000 Starbucks stores in the United States, and its tens of millions of customers. Surely, he mused, there must be some way to take advantage of Starbucks’s sheer size.

In late August, Schultz invited a handful of employees to his home. He told them that they were not there to discuss Starbucks business. “Let’s try to take a big swing at job creation that will be unprecedented and unorthodox,” he said. The meeting went well into the evening. Schultz served pizza.

Here’s the idea they came up with: Americans themselves would start lending to small businesses, with Starbucks serving as the middleman. Starbucks would find financial institutions willing to loan to small businesses. Starbucks customers would be able to donate money to the effort when they bought their coffee. Those who gave $5 or more would get a red-white-and-blue wristband, which Schultz labeled “Indivisible.” “We are hoping it will bring back pride in the American dream,” he says. The tag line will read: “Americans Helping Americans.”


Column: Rent Control is Bad Policy

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

On a cold day in February, the NDP breached the topic of rent controls in Saskatchewan, with party Leader Dwain Lingenfelter calling for "next generation" rent controls that cap increases or only come into effect when vacancy rates are extremely low.

Justice Minister Don Morgan gave what has become a pretty standard response from everyone who opposes rent controls: "We think it’s a disincentive to having developers put more property on the market."

Despite a lot of opposition to the idea, the NDP has kept talking about the idea, partly because many across Saskatchewan are overwhelmed by the rent they pay.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation points out that rent in Saskatoon increased 10 per cent annually from 2006 to 2010. This brought up the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment to $950 a month in 2011 and will slightly increase to $975 in 2012. While a lot of apartments have come on the market, CMHC forecasts a net migration of more than 5,000 people to Saskatoon in each of the next two years, which means that rents will remain high, driven by strong demand for both new houses and apartments.

Higher rents are not always a bad thing. For a long time, Saskatoon had rent that was well below the national average. Increasing rental rates gave property owners a chance to make some needed improvements to their properties.

The quality of apartments has increased dramatically since the boom started and we started to see rental increases. Those improvements did come with a price for those living in the rental units. Apartments that rented for $650 five years ago are now more than $1,000. Even CMHC points out that Saskatoon has become a much more expensive place to live, which hurts our competitiveness as a city.

Rent control is the quickest way to solve the problem, and versions of it have been used in growing cities across North America.

To promote investment in new apartments, rent control often exempts new construction. New York City exempts apartments built after 1974 from rent control. The idea is that landlords can recoup their investment long before the rent is capped. For buildings constructed after 1974, landlords can opt into the program in exchange for tax breaks.

The problem with this is that, at the point where a building needs reinvestment as well as new revenue to pay for it, it loses that option and older buildings often deteriorate quickly.

Another approach is rent stabilization. Landlords are free to set prices of empty suites at whatever rent they can get. Once an apartment is rented, future increases are capped at a set rate. The idea is that it gives some security for both tenants and landlords.

This protects renters from unrealistic and unexpected rental increases, and it benefits landlords by providing tenants an incentive to stay and be responsible. Rate equalization also serves as an incentive for improvements in many cities. Landlords in many cities can apply for rental increases above the equalized amount if they make improvements to buildings. This can cut both ways, as tenants can apply for rent reductions if their apartments are not kept up to code.

Sadly, it never works that way in the real world.

As has been documented in San Francisco and other booming American cities, landlords were holding formal interviews or demanding credit reports (something we now see in Saskatoon) before choosing tenants because there are never enough rent-controlled units to meet the demand. Those who are most likely to benefit from a rent-controlled apartment are often the last to get it. Economist Paul Krugman put it this way: "In uncontrolled housing markets, landlords don’t want grovelling. They would rather have money."

Even if you are lucky enough to get a rent-controlled apartment, you also have some landlords looking for ingenious ways to evict clients so the apartment can be rented out at a higher price.

In Saskatchewan, rent control may solve a shortterm political problem, but it doesn’t solve longer term housing and economic problems. With rental increases predicted to rise incrementally in 2012, it may not even be needed.

What is needed is a continuation of the programs that address the supply issue. Existing programs such as the capital grants for affordable rental units, tax abatements for multi-unit housing, and forgivable loans for the creation of secondary suites have paid off. The rental supplement helps meet the gap between high rents and lower income families.

Rent control may be good politics, and in the middle of an election campaign that is important. However, it remains poor economic policy. There are better alternatives for both renters and our cities.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

When Your Nintendo Wii Won’t Turn On

Mark went to turn on the Wii today and it was a brick.  Instead of panicking, I found this FAQ from Nintendo and it came back to life.

    Most power issues with the Wii can be fixed by resetting the AC adapter. You can easily reset the AC adapter by following these steps:

    1. Unplug the Wii AC adapter at both ends (from the back of the Wii system and from the wall outlet or power strip).

    2. The AC adapter must remain unplugged at both ends for a full 2 minutes.
    3. We also recommend you unplug anything connected to the USB ports and the Nintendo GameCube Controller ports (such as LAN Adapters, keyboards, Nintendo GameCube controllers, etc.).
    4. While you’re waiting, check the AC Adapter for the following:
      • Make sure that the word "Wii" and the model number "RVL-002 (USA)" molded into the AC adapter. Unlicensed products are not fully compatible and may not work correctly.
      • Check the AC Adapter for physical damage. Physical damage, such as frayed wiring or a cracked housing can cause the system to shut down. If your AC Adapter shows signs of physical damage and needs to be replaced, you can purchase one from Nintendo’s online store.
    5. After you’ve waited 2 minutes, plug the AC adapter into the Wii system and directly into a wall outlet, not a surge protector or power strip. If the power light comes on and stays on, then it appears resetting the AC Adapter worked.

      If resetting the AC Adapter did not fix your power issues, please continue reading:

      • Avoid the use of unlicensed products such as memory cards, controllers, and cheat devices. Some of these products are poorly manufactured and may result in damage to your system. If one of these products is attached to your system, remove it and try resetting the AC Adapter (see above).
      • Check any accessories that connect to the Nintendo GameCube Controller ports or the USB ports of the Wii — whether licensed or not — for physical damage. Physical damage, such as frayed wiring or a cracked housing can cause the system to shut down. Remove any damaged products and try resetting the AC Adapter again (see above).
      • Make sure the Wii has good ventilation. Avoid operating the Wii while it’s on carpeting or inside an enclosed space. If you have the Wii placed in a vertical position, make sure the vent on the bottom is lined up properly with the hole in the plastic stand and no foreign material is obstructing that hole.
      • Check the vents on the back and side of the Wii for dust build up. The system will shut down if it cannot vent properly to prevent overheating. If there is a build-up, remove it using a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment.
      • Make sure that your wall outlet works. To check it, try plugging a lamp into the same outlet where your system was plugged in. Turn the lamp on the verify the outlet works. Also, make sure you are not using an outlet that is operated from a wall switch. If you do, make sure the wall switch is in the ON position.
      • Make sure the AC adapter is attached properly. Firmly plug your AC adapter into the back of the Wii (the port is labeled 12V IN) and into a working wall outlet (not a power strip or surge protector). Click here for detailed instructions.
      • Once plugged in, check the power light on the Power button to see if the system is receiving power.

    If the power is still continually shutting off regularly, please click here for repair options. For this particular symptom, it is best to include your Wii console’s AC Adapter with your system. This will help our technicians ensure they are able to resolve your issue.

I posted it here as I had a huge problem finding it via Google and several game boards I found linked to a dead URL.

What a mess

The Mountain West and Conference USA are merging to form a really big mediocre conference.

The Mountain West and Conference USA are planning to join forces to secure their future in the rapidly changing college football landscape.

The two leagues expect to merge their football operations into one mega-conference that will probably have between 20 and 24 teams in it when it finally gets going in 2013.

The name? They’ll come up with one.

Will Boise State and Air Force, among others, stay? They hope.

“I’m just trying to create stability—greater stability—so we’re not talking about membership issues,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Friday night on a conference call. Both commissioners, Thompson and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, said the new arrangement will provide the security that top programs need to keep them from jumping ship.

That’s clearly the reason for the merger announced Friday, shortly after it came out that Boise State and Air Force—two key Mountain West programs—were being courted by the Big East.

Down to six teams of its own after Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced a pending departure to the ACC, the league generally viewed as the weakest of the automatic qualifiers for the Bowl Championship Series looks set to poach some of the top mid-majors.

A Big East official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the conference had not authorized anyone to speak publicly about its plans, told The Associated Press that the conference plans to invite Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only members, and Central Florida to compete in all sports.

“It’s a viable option and it creates stability and that’s what they’re looking for,” Thompson said. “I can’t answer what Air Force will do or won’t do, but we’re going to put a very attractive opportunity on the table for the United States Air Force Academy.”

So the Big East is in shambles, the whatever it is called conference will stretch from Hawaii to the east coast (obscene travel costs anyone?) and what have they accomplished? 

Working hard to raise the level of discourse

My biggest contribution so far to the Saskatchewan election

Working hard to raise the level of discourse

Have the Liberals Passed the Point of No Return

Chantal Hebert asks some hard questions about the future of the Liberal Party

Moving from east to west the NDP has pushed back the frontiers of its territory in every region of the country over the past decade. More often than not it has done so at Liberal expense.

In the early 90s, the NDP had little presence in Atlantic Canada. But today the New Democrats are well on the way to become a force to contend with in every province of the region except P.E.I.

They make up the government in Nova Scotia. On Tuesday they came within one seat of beating the Liberals to the title of official opposition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Quebec, the federal NDP has gone from one seat to 59 over the span of a single decade.

The Liberals under Jean Chrétien used to sweep Ontario throughout the ’90s. Last May, the NDP elected twice as many MPs as the Liberals in Canada’s largest province.

In the Prairies, the Liberal party is virtually extinct.

Out of 254 federal and provincial seats in the three provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Liberals currently hold 12.

Only two of those are federal seats and personal popularity has more to do with the survival of a lone federal Liberal flag-bearer in Saskatchewan and Manitoba last May than party brand.

The same is true in Quebec where most of the seven Liberal survivors of the federal election — MPs like Marc Garneau, Stéphane Dion, Denis Coderre, Irwin Cotler and Justin Trudeau — owe their survival to who they are (or who they have been).

Watching the receding Liberal tide, one can reasonably wonder whether the party as a major national presence has reached the point of no return.

The current Liberal establishment — rooted as it is in Ontario and somewhat blinded by its proximity to Queen’s Park — will swear that it is not so.

To shore up their faith in a brighter future for their party, diehard federal Liberals point to the leadership travails of the NDP and the resilience of their provincial cousins in Ontario.

There was a time not so long ago when the federal Tories drank the same bathwater.

They too clung to their party’s hold on provincial capitals such as Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto as proof positive of their own inevitable triumph over the Reform/Alliance.

Not to shine on Hebert’s rainy parade but the federal Tories changes, adapted, and merged and became… the federal Tories and the last time I checked, were in power nationally.  The Liberals may or may not do the same thing but they are not in the same boat as the Progressive Conservatives, even if they are in a rut right now.  Will they survive?  Not sure but did anyone see Peter McKay and Stephen Harper in power after the disastrous 1993 campaign? 

Derek Rope on Transportation

Derek Rope has a great position paper on public transit.  You can read the highlights on City Hall Notebook.

Moreover, Melbourne, Australia provides an innovative approach to making transit more reliable: in Melbourne, the operator of the tram system posts benchmarks and its performance against those benchmarks on the tram for passengers to read. If the tram misses its targets, then passengers are compensated. Ultimately, if we can make public transport convenient, efficient and reliable, we will go a long way toward relieving congestion on the roads of our growing city while minimizing our environmental impact.

Most of the Chilean miners are still off work

It’s a sad story.

But today Mr. Sánchez, like many of the 33 miners who survived 69 days nearly a half-mile underground, is jobless and at wits’ end. Twice a month, he boards a bus to Santiago, Chile’s capital, traveling 11 hours each way for a short visit with a psychiatrist. He is one of nine miners receiving sick-leave pay for prolonged post-traumatic stress; a handful of others say they are seeing private therapists.

“Most of us are in the same place with emotional and psychological problems,” said Mr. Sánchez, 20. “It was the fear that we would never again see our families, that we were going to die. We just can’t shake those memories.”

One year after their globally televised rescue, after the worldwide spotlight faded and the trips and offers have dwindled, the miners say that most of them are unemployed and that many are poorer than before.

Only a handful of them have steady jobs, they say. Just four have returned to mining. Two others, Víctor Zamora and Darío Segovia, are trying to make ends meet by selling fruits and vegetables, one from a stall, the other out of his truck.

10 Empties U.S. Cities

Anyone home?  Anyone at all?

One of the unfortunate results of a bad housing market is an increase in vacant homes, which has grown by 43.8 percent since 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Homes can be vacant for a number of reasons, but are defined as both rental inventory that are unoccupied and “for rent,” as well as homes that are unoccupied and up for sale. As of the 2010 Census, there were approximately 15 million vacant housing units in the country, with an 11.4 percent gross vacancy rate nationwide.

Related: Detroit is on the rise again and 100 Abandoned Houses

Column: Tackling Local Problems Tricky

My StarPhoenix column this week.

When I bought my house I had certain expectations.

I expected the police to keep marauding mobs off my street, the fire department to put out fires, my neighbours to maintain their homes and city council not to make decisions that would hurt the value of my investment. I didn’t just want the status quo; I wanted the status quo and a steady rate of return for my investment.

Having such expectations is why we get so upset when things go wrong. Depending on one’s city, it can be as simple as a day care moving onto the street or, if one lives in Detroit, a complete removal of essential civic services such as policing, fire protection and garbage pickup from the neighbourhood.

A change to the "social contract" that makes up a city can be a big deal. I experienced that last week when I fired off a couple of emails to some city councillors to express support for Mayor Don Atchison and Police Chief Clive Weighill’s plan to license escort agencies.

While I see prostitution as an act of violence against women, I know the laws of Canada see it in a much different light and prostitution is legal in Canada. The city’s plan to make it safer for the women is a step in the right direction.

While I appreciated the step forward, I also suggested the escort agencies be moved out of residential neighbourhoods, mine in particular.

Living in a neighbourhood that has some escorts and street prostitutes working there, I have had moments of NIMBYism that have been quite literal, with the women and johns performing the trick right beside my house.

For years, I have seen the same cars circle and circle. Working night shifts in a neighbourhood store used to feature coffee breaks during which I watched johns try to get up the courage (or beat down the shame) as they drove around before making their move.

As street prostitution has become a bigger part of life, each morning I check our boulevard and back alley for used needles and condoms.

In a frequent walk down to the needle disposal box, I have contemplated building my own version of the historic Watts Tower. Except, my tower would not be built out of garbage, but of used needles, burnt spoons and condoms.

I thought it was a good idea, but sadly massive towers of used drug paraphernalia are not allowed under the current zoning bylaws. It isn’t the escort agencies that are the problem, but their proximity contributes to an interconnected problem of aggressive johns, drugs and increased street prostitution.

It raises the question of how does one tackle integrated local problems without making local business and homeowners pay a price in property values and even an increase in the concentration of the problem. As in most cities, Saskatoon’s approach has not been co-ordinated, but there are examples that can be built upon.

The Saskatoon Community Service Village on 25th Street is an example of a place that delivers a high volume and quality of services without having an impact on the neighbouring communities. It’s located on the west side of Kinsmen Park, has minimal impact on surrounding businesses and residents and, being an integrated facility, has a much smaller footprint than if all of the partner agencies had their own buildings.

Another way to go is to target certain streets and areas for economic growth, while keeping social agencies to the side streets, much as the Riversdale Business Improvement District has proposed for 20th Street. Along with that could be zoning regulations that provide adequate frontage and spaces to loiter – to ensure normal street commerce and traffic isn’t interrupted.

The other side of the equation is the role neighbourhoods themselves play in solving social issues. We are not just taxpayers but also citizens, which denotes responsibility on our part.

We have a right to expect things from the city, but the city also has a right to expect things of us. In neighbourhoods where there are emerging social issues, homeowners and business operators need to accept that things need to change even if it is uncomfortable to confront the problem.

In a week where Saskatoon was considering licensing escort agencies and later the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right for Vancouver’s safe injection site to stay open, those problems seem a lot more complex than they did a couple of weeks ago.

While I despise the impact the sex trade has on people who are victimized and on the neighbourhoods it affects, at least the city and the police are moving forward.

It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s a courageous one and a lot better than doing nothing.

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