Tag Archives: homelessness

Twittering to help the homeless – and why it is bad!

Here is a great story out of Vancouver of a group of strangers using twitter to come together and help the homeless.

Another example of how social media can build new friends and community and help make the world a better place – sadly we all know it won’t have any impact of the powerful narrative of youth as uncaring, self-centred narcsistic and apathetic.

And then there are those who think these tools are really just the hands of the devil. I didn’t know anyone still read Andrew Keen but the other day a reader pointed to his (1000th) column on how the internet will end society as we know it. Check out this excerpt:

The 1930s fascists were expert at using all the most technologically sophisticated communications technologies—the cinema, radio, newspapers, advertising—to spew their destructive, hate-filled message. What they excelled at was removing the the traditional middlemen like religion, media, and politics, and using these modern technologies of mass communications to speak with reassuring familiarity to the disorientated masses.

Imagine if today’s radically unregulated Internet, with its absence of fact checkers and editorial gatekeepers, had existed back then. Imagine that universal broadband had been available to enable the unemployed to read the latest conspiracy theories about the Great Crash on the blogosphere. Imagine the FDR-baiting, Hitler-loving Father Charles Coughlin, equipped with his “personalized” YouTube channel, able, at a click of a button, to distribute his racist message to the suffering masses. Or imagine a marketing genius like the Nazi chief propagandist Josef Goebbels managing a viral social network of anti-Semites which could coordinate local meet-ups to assault Jews and Communists.

You can almost feel the anger and rage ooze off the screen – try reading the whole thing. I can see why Keen is scared – he probably has visions of people like him running around the internet. That said, he’s ultimately right on one level, anyone can use these tools. But the solution is what? To ban them all? Regulate them into ineffectiveness? Ultimately you can’t have the opportunity of self-organizing enlightenment without the possibility of self-organizing hatred. But maybe then, we don’t want kids wandering making friends and helping homeless people. Yes, now that I reflect on it, being a passive hollywood and park avenue fed consumer was always so much better for society, democracy and freedom. Thank you for saving me from myself Andrew Keen!

Two steps (or should I say decades?) back on homelessness

(Small note: For those less interested in Vancouver and looking for a national story check out my man Taylor’s take on Simpson’s Globe and Mail piece and why Iggy’s policy development process lead to such a strong outcome.)

As for me, I’m feeling frustrated about Mayor Sam Suillivan’s poll on Vancouverites municipal priorities. For anyone who hasn’t visited Vancouver in the last year there is no doubt that homelessness is the number one issue – an observation confirmed by the city’s residents. No big surprise, given the rising cost of housing and a sharply declining number of available low-cost rooms in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels (those most affordable to low-income residents).

The challenge for the mayor (beyond actually solving the problem) is that it is hard to take his concern seriously. We need only recall that, after taking office, his second act was to reduce the amount of social housing that would be part of the Olympic village development. Moreover, during the debate over Project Civil City he voted down a proposed amendment to include the Minister for Housing on the Mayor’s Civil City Leadership Council. If you were concerned about homelessness and were putting together a team to tackle it, it would seem sensible that you’d want to pull together the relevant stakeholders – especially those with access to resources beyond the meager ones available to the city.

Vancouver is now preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics without an effective homelessness strategy. Sadly, precedent does not look good. In the lead up to the 1986 World Exposition Vancouver managed a similar problem by simply expelling the homeless from the relevant areas. While the city was ‘clean’ for Expo ’86 the long term consequence was the radicalization of civic politics and damaged relations between city hall and the city’s most at-risk citizens. Combine this municipal approach with a Federal Government intent on treating drug addiction and homelessness as a legal and not a social challenge and you have the recipe for disaster. Be prepared for a new effort to ‘sanitize’ Vancouver – an effort that will almost certainly fray or destroy the social and support networks that help at risk communities and push the problem out to the surrounding communities of the GVRD.

[tags]Vancouver, Vancouver politics, Sam Suillivan, homelessness, social housing, 2010 Olympics[/tags]