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Tomas Jonsson – Day 4

October 19, 2010

On Thursday, September 16, a larger group of participants met to continue the discussion on housing and poverty. This is how it went…

After a preliminary introduction to his past work, Tomas discussed the undertakings of the past week, which included introducing the psycho-geographic survey now ready for dissemination.

After the participants introduced themselves and their reason for taking interest in the topic, we found ourselves in a conversation that queried the notion of responsibility. Who is responsible for making decisions that affect the potential for people without adequate housing to have greater choice and control over their lives? The question of responsibility gravitated between the ideas of individual and community value systems, political will and legislation, and the all important topic of leadership.

It was pointed out that while cities are not necessarily mandated to assure housing for citizens, it is certainly a critical issue, and since city geography is sometimes the closest connection between citizens from different areas/with different lifestyles, cities are a reasonable common ground from which to inspire action. True enough, many cities are actively involved in the creation and delivery of a comprehensive housing strategy. Even Winnipeg, we learned, once demonstrated leadership in this area.

So what do we do? Do we wait for the “right people” to eventually come forward through elections, or do we take matters int our own hands? Ultimately, it was agreed we can’t afford to wait any longer because, as a city, Winnipeg has already noticed the rate by which building and material costs have increased. Imagine if public transit infrastructure improvements were made 10 years ago, or 20 years ago? The same can be said for proper, solid, and affordable housing.

In addition to the clear problem of rising capital costs as a result of waiting, we realized how impossible it is to merely wait for action from enlightened civic officials. Despite proof that the positive reinforcement generated from access to stable, clean, comfortable housing — and the network of people that come with it — creates a foundation for better living for everyone, there has been no trend toward real problem solving in this area.

As a group, we also discussed the necessity of housing provided without strings attached because, in cases where addiction is a consideration, it has also been proven that access to stable housing is key to making life changes.  And, with these two things in mind, we acknowledged that the longer this issue is ignored, the more widespread the problem becomes. Therefore we, as citizens, can’t afford to wait — we need to direct the issue through demonstrations and advocacy, and the presentation of good examples elsewhere.

Related to this, we also discussed by-laws active in other cities such as use it or loose it directives aimed at preventing absentee owners who buy building then just leave it vacant to rot since its the land that interests them more. We were curious to find out more about how these policies work. 

When it came down to it, we saw leadership as a recurrent theme concerning both citizens and elected officials. We decided to pursue it as the topic for our action.

After discussing a range of possibilities – both overt and covert – we realized we hadn’t performed a project yet, so we decided to explore that option. An idea that continued to rise, playing on clichés associated with the word “leader” was to dress as aliens and ask passersby: “Who is your leader? Take me to your leader! We are interested in housing for all, and we’d like to know who we should talk to about this very important issue!”

Not everyone in the group was comfortable with the idea of performing, or doing so in such a direct fashion, so we decided to be a little more subtle and set up a table with a sign, rather than directly contact fellow citizens. We also decided that some people would participate in the performance and others would document it, and/or answer questions.

Next, we walked in the Exchange to select a location for our action — the bus stop adjacent to City Hall seemed perfect. While we were there, Matt posted an envelope containing our psycho-geographic survey in a telephone booth so it could be found by passersby.

We ended the session with a trip to Ragpicker’s to select alien costumes. Kristin, the proprietor, was thrilled with our idea and gave us a fantastic deal on a bag full of costume possibilities, just in case more people than planned showed up to get involved. Awesome!

We had costumes and a plan, so it was set: tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 p.m. we would meet to enact this performance!

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