New Year, Old Stunts

Jagrup Brar poses with welfare recipient Fraser Stuart to demonstrate that welfare recipients are people too and that he isn't too good to touch them.

While most people spent January 1st recovering from a hangover, BC MLA Jagrup Brar headed into work. Kinda. Sorta. Ok, not really.

Brar, a Surrey MLA, has taken on a challenge to survive the month on only $610, the amount of money a single, unemployed individual would make on welfare. The goal of the challenge is to demonstrate that it isn’t easy, I guess.

This is a political stunt of the laziest kind. Brar, who is a member of the New Democratic Party (the closest thing to socialism in Canada and, in fact, a self-proclaimed socialist party), is doing it not to demonstrate how tough it is but is doing it to score points with party leaders and voters. I’m going to be honest: the current welfare rate is too low. But a blanket increase would be silly, because while not every welfare recipient in BC does drugs, a lot do (oh yeah, for non-Lower Mainland readers, Vancouver has one of the worst homeless problems in the world, which involves a lot of illicit drug use and mostly-untreated mental disorders), and that would mean a lot of misappropriated tax dollars. We should spend more money, but spend it smarter, if you ask me.

But there are a few problems specifically with what Brar is doing:

1) His effort implicitly assumes that all welfare recipients are homeless.

Fact: not all welfare recipients are homeless. Duh.

2) Brar gets to go home and to his office once a week.

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden; or, Life in the Woods. It’s basically a long essay about the time he spent living outside of society… at first glance. Cursory research has demonstrated that Thoreau went to town now and then and his sister brought him pies and occasionally did his laundry. Thoreau did not “live off the grid”, but just pretended to. And that’s exactly what Brar is doing. No homeless person — as he is pretending to be — gets to go home and hang out with his family for a day before heading back onto the streets. The fact is that life for the average homeless person is pretty hard. The whole not-having-a-home thing is a bit of a drag, and you never get a break from being homeless. What Brar is doing is the equivalent of slumming.

3) For Brar, his homelessness began on the 1st and ends on the 31st.

Relating to the above, Brar only has to pretend to be homeless for 31 days. Someone who is more or less permanently homeless, again, doesn’t get the break Brar is going to get. He has the 31st to look forward to; a real homeless person has another month of homelessness to look forward to.

4) Brar is robbing the homeless.

This is what pisses me off the absolute most and does so to no end. All the above? Those are just flaws in what is otherwise a lame political stunt recycled from decades past. It’s not new or inspirational whatsoever. It won’t change anything and isn’t meant to, and that’s that. Brar’s money, fortunately, is not coming out of social housing or anything like that: he’s not literally collecting welfare. What he’s doing, I think, is worse.

Every time Jagrup Brar eats a “free meal” or spends a night in a “free shelter”, that’s one less meal for someone who needs it and one less bed. Brar is kind enough to highlight the waits at the Front Room (a shelter in Surrey), for example, that only has 40 beds but 50 people in line. The demand for these beds is higher than the supply. For Brar to essentially take a bed that someone else needs, just for a stupid political stunt, is absolutely disgusting and Brar should be ashamed of himself.

You can accuse me of partisanship, but I firmly believe that 1) the homelessness problem of Vancouver is ridiculous and 2) something needs to change. I work with drug addicts and people with mental disorders every day. The vast majority of them are great people with severe problems. Through life, every now and then, you stumble. You take a fall. Maybe you pull yourself back up, but sometimes, you can’t. I firmly believe that these people need help and that as a society, it is our responsibility to help. I don’t think Brar is entirely wrong in saying there’s a problem with welfare in this province, or that $610 isn’t a lot to live on. He’s right, and we need to find a solution to it.

But spending a month slumming and taking food and beds away from the homeless is probably not a solution. It’s a cheap political stunt and it’s disgusting.

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9 Comments on “New Year, Old Stunts”

  1. debbie harcourt says:

    Of course if welfare rates go up, so will the cost of living in a rooming house – which I have to agree with – the cost of a room has not risen in many cases in more than 10 years, yet the cost to run the buildings has. Heat, cable, electric, manpower, taxes and so on and so on. Many “slumlords” are unable to do badly needed repairs, because it is so expensive. I know first hand many damages have been caused by “hard to house” tenants, who are on welfare and would never be able to pay for themselves. Before you talk about “insurance” remember most deductibles are in the thousands of dollars and if you start making claims, your rates increase.

    Perhaps a temporary fix would be to privide lodging at Riverview Hospital – several buildings have been shut down but are in good shape – meaning they have heat, electricity and running water, they also have several empty houses on the property that could be used to teach some of the homeless how to take care of a home, do their laundry, cooking etc. Many of the people dumped into the DTES previously lived in Riverview, maybe now would be a good time take them back and provide them with the skills to take care of themselves.

    • Alysen says:

      Perhaps if pontificating public had actually done any kind of psychoanalysis they would know what they’re talking about. But, no, the lack of self awareness is palpable and so is their ignorance of what causes homelessness, poverty and addictions. Oh, yes, and where is the highest per capita of alcohol consumption in the Lower Mainland? Come on, it can’t be that hard to answer.

      Here’s another question the public can research: What does alcohol do to the brain, thus create the predominate behaviour?

      • James says:

        Good points, I think. Homelessness is blamed on some things in way too simplistic a manner. People claim that homelessness is caused by laziness or by drug abuse or whatever, yet those causes are just a few of far too many and are, again, too simplistic.

        I’m glad you addressed alcohol abuse. Do you know what is most often stolen from many “public” buildings around Vancouver and the DTES? Hand sanitizer. The reason? The alcohol content. A staggering number of addictions on the DTES are simply alcohol addictions. And it’s funny, because one can talk about how bad heroin or crack or smack or meth or ice or whatever is, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to realise that alcohol is one of the most harmful drugs on the planet. And it is actually legal and is a huge source of income for many governments. And it’s funny (in a very sad sort of way) that governments pontificate about the evils of drug abuse and how we have to have zero tolerance, but alcohol and cigarettes (hell, I know a number of people addicted to caffeine, whether it’s in energy drinks or coffee) remain legal.

        I had a long discussion with a friend about this on Facebook, and maybe I should clarify my own point in this article: my argument is not that drugs are bad (that is definitely a different argument for a different time), my argument is that increasing welfare rates is a quick-fix like putting a band aid over a gunshot wound: it looks good, but doesn’t address the real problem.

    • James says:

      Which is a good reason for increasing welfare rates. “Slumlords” really provide a public service for the government, and they’re getting the shaft in the end. It was the NDP who began the termination of Riverview. Again, working on the DTES with people with mental disorders and drug addictions (which go hand-in-hand) and working with patient-care providers such as registered psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, and social workers, I know that the effort is definitely there, but the resources aren’t.

      • Alysen says:

        I wouldn’t say the Slumlords are getting the shaft, unless that shaft is made of gold. They’re getting richer. I pay $600 a month to a Slumlord who won’t repair things and have done without heat since November. But, Slumlord will evict me if I don’t pay the rent. Nice double standard, wouldn’t you say?

        The Lower Mainland community with the highest per capital alcohol consumption is none other than Kerrisdale.

        Across the world the professional category with highest rate of alcohol consumption is law enforcement.

        Addicts say the same thing, “I use to hide the emotional pain”.

        4 out of 5 women had unwanted sexual encounters between the ages of four and 11, 3 out of 5 men the same. This is shaming and it’s toxic to the point of being the most painful state of being. That is 7 out of 10 adults in a state of emotional pain. How many of these adults work in the following professions: medical, legal and civil service?

        How many of the 7 out of 10 adults actively engage in psycho-analysis? How many are avoiding their pain with the sundry of drugs available? How many toxic-shamed adults project their pain on to others?

      • James says:

        It was unclear. We’re referring to slumlords who operate Single Room Occupancy buildings. Most of these buildings are required, by law, to only collect the housing allowance, no more. These people are forced to run these buildings at the same rate they have for several years, despite an increase in property taxes and so on. It costs more to run a SRO today than it did 5 years ago, but it pays just as much. Your landlord is clearly a slumlord, but what we were referring to was a different breed.

        I assume you mean “how many of the 7 of the 10 adults actively” receive psychoanalysis, right?

        I see your points, still. We need to address the cause (in this case, sexual and/or emotional abuse), and not the symptom of alcohol/drug abuse.

      • Alysen says:

        Unlike Vancouver there are few and far between SROs. – I didn’t know that was the regulation for Vancouver’s SROs, but do know that the Portland Housing Society is running a few of the buildings. As a non-profit Portland is suppose to be breaking even at best. – Surrey’s bylaws are being defied left, right and center and the City condones it by not taking action, even though they have on record tens of thousands of illegal basement suites, plus countless illegal rooming houses.

        The City staff also are fully aware how the landlords are building these illegal suites, and whenever I’ve attempted to have a landlord held responsible the Council, Mayor and/or staff shut me down…

        7 out of 10 have had childhood shaming. One of the key behaviours of toxic shame is knowing one is doing something wrong and still doing. Another is deflecting responsibility of the wrongdoing by accusing another of similar or worse behaviours. The 7 out of 10 adults also work in civil services.

      • James says:

        You’re mistaken re: PHS. A non-profit society is not a society that makes no profit, but one that does not give any extra profit (if any is made) to employees or management. Say, for example, I manage a non-profit and make x dollars per year. If my non-profit makes a profit, I cannot be given a bonus because of that. Any extra profit made needs to go back into the company. PHS, for example, can make a profit and then use that profit to buy more buildings or hire more employees.

        I would recommend talking to your MLA, but I suppose you’ve already done that.

  2. Alysen says:

    Correction of my first sentence: Unlike Vancouver there are few and far between SROs in Surrey …


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