The sloppy group of absolutely polluted street people pile up outside a downtown restaurant making themselves at home leaning against tires of cars owned by patrons who dine on lobster tails inside.This is the lead paragraph of a Calgary Sun news story two weeks ago, not an opinion piece, a news story. The rest of the piece is a cringe-inducing, worshipful puff piece on the Guardian Angels. It reads like a Volkischer Beobachter propaganda piece for vigilante mobs dressed in brown shirts, not red berets.
This ties in with a mean-spirited campaign by downtown businesses that implies that all homeless are drug addicts and tells the public not to help them. In tune with the chamber of commerce vote, City Hall passed anti-homeless legislation designed to make being poor illegal.
With this kind of mean-spirited contempt and dehumanization coming from Calgary's journalists, business people and politicians, is it any surprise that some people would assume that they've been given the go-ahead to view the homeless as expendable - or even targets? What happens when you label an entire group 'polluted'?
Attacks on the homeless are becoming a sadly regular occurrence in Calgary. In July of 2003 a pack of young men gleefully filmed themselves kicking, beating and urinating on a helpless homeless man. They laughed as they tortured him. Sadly this is not an unusual event. Only the fact that the vile attack was filmed got it the attention it did. At night those on the street who are unwilling or unable to get a spot in the overstressed city shelters find an easily defensible spot to sleep or band together for protection.
A lot of fingers and toes were lost this bitter winter and at least one death as the shelters turned away record numbers of people.
A year ago a conservative one night count of Calgary's homeless population was over three thousand. It's increased since then. Despair and neglect have led to a vicious cycle of drug abuse and dependency. Instead of compassion, the response from the right wing utopia of go go Calgary has been contempt and hateful, arguably eliminationist rhetoric.
These are hard, cold streets.