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Musings: Part 1


1/ Workfare versus Welfare
Ron Murdock

The questions to ask about the welfare system are how much of a multi-million dollar business it has become and whether it provides a hand up to those on the system? Being on welfare can produce a handout mentality that robs people of self-respect and dignity. Who feels good about themselves when in line at a food bank or in a soup kitchen?

Though the onus is on the individual to start the ball rolling in getting back on their feet, more opportunities can be added to those all ready in place. School up-grading, job re-training and other hands on experiences can provide welfare clients a chance to get into a career that has better pay and a brighter future. Most on welfare are looking for ways to make things better for themselves and families. Instead of having a system that stifles creativity, have one that rewards initiative for those wanting to better their life situation.

A few years ago Picasso’s Cafe in Vancouver provided young people who were on the streets a chance to develop talents in the food industry. They were trained as table servers, cooks and kitchen help. This is the kind of hand up in life that actually helps those who at one time may have felt their lives were pretty bleak.

Opportunities like this have long term effects on people. Also, it is a practical solution in that something is being done as opposed to just sitting around and thinking on what policies can be put into place to “aid” those who policy makers think they are helping. No longer is it enough to just talk, but the time is at hand to start getting some viable solutions to help those living in poverty.

2/ Homeless In Vancouver
Ron Murdock

I left a job in Dawson Creek, B.C., as caretaker of a men’s hostel, a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job After three months on the job with only two days off, I went AWOL.

After 3 weeks of visiting friends in Chetwynd, Terrace and Prince Rupert I pulled into Vancouver and stayed in Dunsmuir House for the weekend. On Monday morning, I visited Social Services. They knew about me going AWOL. I was told that since I had quit the job in Dawson Creek, I had to get a job and was not eligible for help past the first month.

For three weeks I got no work. Finally a week before Christmas Day I started as a street vendor/writer for Spare Change Magazine. Even though the coin was good for the week, it failed to meet my monthly rent. So on the morning of December 28th, I was on the streets with my pack and sleeping bag heading to an overpass in Burnaby where I planned to camp overnight. My first night homeless passed without event except for freight trains passing every half hour.

At 5:00 a.m. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep because of the damp cold. I made my way to a nearby McDonalds.

At 6:30 the restaurant opened and I was first in line. Over toast and hot coffee, I shook out the dampness in my body. Two hours later, after shaving in the restroom, I made my way back to downtown Vancouver. I found the Lookout where I was able to get a free shower. It felt good to get cleaned up and be treated with respect by the Lookout staff.

At 8:30 in the evening I had nowhere to go, so I headed to Crosswalk and waited outside until midnight when the doors opened, not wanting another night under a bridge. Many had shown up for pastry and coffee, but few stayed overnight. Two or three nights in a row was all a person could stay. At 1:00 a.m. everyone was cleared out except for a half dozen overnighters. The bed was a thin mattress, wool blanket and pillow. Considering I had been up for 20 hours I felt like a king. I could have been outside in the rainfall.

At 5:30 we were awakened, given coffee and pastries and sent off for the day. I slowly made my way up Cordova knowing there was no need to rush.

Even in Vancouver things are slow at 6 a.m. Stopping at a corner for a red light, I looked down. Lo and behold I had found myself a loon — a Canadian dollar coin. I felt rich as I now had money for coffee and toast at McDonalds without dipping into the change to buy the street newspaper.

At Spare Change I bought as many copies of the issue as I could and told the boss about my predicament. He made a phone call to the Catholic Charities hostel and suggested I head there when it opened. I registered that evening and it was a great load off my mind that for the next four nights I knew where I would be sleeping. Each morning I picked up $7 in meal tickets, so I would get at least one good meal during the day.

Over the New Year’s Holidays my paper sales were good as people were still in a festive mood. The day of the Polar Bear Swim I sold close to $80. For the next 5 weeks things took a downturn. The festive mood ended when the bills came in and money was stretched to cover them.

After my time was up at Catholic Charities, I contacted Dunsmuir House and they told me they had set aside 7 dorm beds for a $9 nightly rate. The desk clerk said to be in by 6:30 in the evening as the 7 beds went quickly, and they went on a first come, first served basis.

This helped my vendor sales as it gave me something to aim for. But over the next few weeks life was tough as I couldn’t plan more than 12 hours ahead in any given day. I was able to sleep every night at the hostel. but some nights after paying for the bed I had just enough money to start vending again the next day. It was like being stuck on a treadmill with no way off. One week all I had to eat was 2 Egg McMuffins and 2 pizza slices.

One evening, just before the dorm opened, I was sitting in front of a movie theater with $2 in my pocket. I hadn’t sold a paper in three hours and I was feeling rather desperate. One of the other vendors came along and stopped. He loaned me the $9 for the dorm bed and told me to get my ass over to Social Services the next morning. I figured I better listen as I couldn’t handle being homeless any longer.

The next morning with nothing to lose and an intent to rent form from Dunsmuir Hose filled out, I went over to Social Services. I explained that for 6 weeks I was homeless, didn’t know how much money I was going to make in any given day and was getting sick of sleeping in a dorm.

The social worker told me to come back at noon and pick up a rent cheque and support cheque. I felt elated. I would be able to move into a small room at Dunsmuir House, afford a decent meal, go to the movies and do other things that most people take for granted. It was a good feeling to have money in my pocket and my own room to go back to. It was nothing fancy. Just a bed, drawer, locker, sink and table but it was home. I could come and go as I pleased and not have to worry about someone getting into my gear. I could listen to the radio when I wanted to.

Living on the streets of Vancouver was a tough experience. A few people went out of their way to help me. They are kindly remembered. But it felt like most people treat a homeless person like a street lamp or postal drop box, just another fixture to walk around. Even though living on the streets the way I did opened my eyes to a thing or two, I would not repeat the experience. It was too tough to handle.

3/ Fight Against Poverty Requires Realistic View

I have taken notice during recent campaign trails of the various candidates promising to take action on the issue of poverty. Yet I wonder if they are fully aware of the entire scope of the problem. I am beginning to wonder if this isn’t one more way of getting votes. It seems as if trends come and go, the latest one being to take up the rights of the poor. To fully understand what the poor go through, it is essential “to be there and done that” at least part of ones life. When one has a home to go to and good meals everyday – nothing wrong with those in themselves – they can be insulated and not have a clue of what the people they claim to want to do something for actually go through. Will it be that dealing with poverty will be one more fad to be followed by another one in the future?

There will have to be a major overhaul on how poverty is approached as the vicious cycle keeps on spiraling downwards. The question to ask is how to have concrete solutions to the poverty crisis. The bottom line is that a hand up is needed more than a handout, but the person on the receiving end needs to develop a honest desire to help themselves first.

Even though the onus is on the individual to start the ball rolling to get back on their feet, resources are there for them to use. Organizations are there to help out, but after listening to the same stories day in and day out, they may begin to wonder if they are part of the solution or part of the problem; especially true with all the red tape that needs to be dealt with. It is hard, but some try to maintain as much of a positive attitude as they can under the circumstances. Putting aside the cynicism factor for a moment, they ask if they weren’t there how much worse would things be?

I wonder if one concrete way of battling poverty head-on is to provide school upgrading or offer job retraining courses such as welding or industrial first aid. The benefits would be the person developing more self confidence and a skill that would help them seek employment in the job market. The bottom line in dealing with poverty and how it affects people is to provide practical solutions and not some vague promises from someone who hasn’t walked the walk.

3/ House Posing as a City Dump
Ron Murdock

Bob and Margaret Fish were hard pressed to find a place to live last summer. Through a friend of theirs, the Fishes were able to contact an owner of a small Saskatoon house. The owner of the house was very pleasant at first and seemed willing to do anything to fix up the house, or at the very least supply the materials necessary so the Fishes could do the repairs. When they moved in, the Fishes found the house was a dump, as the former tenants used the place as a crack house. Several people had come around looking for one person in particular, including the Saskatoon city police who had an arrest warrant for this person.

As the weeks went by, the owner seemed to change, not keeping promises to provide a washer/dryer or house paint. The Fishes were told they were free to do any work on the house as long as it didn’t cost the owner any money.

Things went downhill further from there. As a result of improper locks on the windows, one person was easily able to lift a window and crawl in. Taken was tobacco, all the food in the deep freeze, and $100 cash which was set aside to pay the monthly bills. Upon hearing the Fishes approach the front door, the burglar ran out the back door and was never apprehended.

A friend of the Fishes called the Fire Department regarding unsafe living conditions in the house. An inspector came over and took notes on several violations evident in the house. The inspector even asked for the owner by name because of similar violations in other houses. Some repairs were done with the 30 day time limit, but others went unheeded. The stairs that went to the basement came to be know as the “widowmakers” for very loose steps.

A new fridge was delivered, but both tenants have back problems and those who made the delivery refused to help move the fridge into place in the kitchen. So the fridge was left on the back step when the delivery people drove off. Not long afterwards the fire alarm went off for no apparent reason and continued to scream until 5:00 a.m. The fire department was called. Upon arrival, they dismantled the whole alarm and took it away. This alarm was replaced by two brand new smoke alarms by order of the fire department.

Then just after New Years Day, there was an actual fire that started when a washroom curtain fell on a heat radiator. Smoke filled the house and there was some smoke and fire damage to the washroom. But neither fire alarm, new ones at that, went off. The bathroom window needed replacing and one of the walls needs a touchup, but two months later nothing had been done. The Fishes did say that the owner of the house claims that insurance will cover cost of the repairs, but the Fishes fear it will be taken out of their damage deposit. The owner didn’t ask about the safety of the tenants but was more concerned about the appliances.

It was at this time that Bob and Marg had enough of the situation. For them it was time to give notice and move on to another residence. They got tire of being dumped on. So the search is on for another place to live.

4/ Recycling Bottles Becomes Popular
Ron Murdock

In a normal week, the Rupert Bottle Depot handles 60,000 to 70,000 empty containers. This amounts to more than 85% of all pop containers that are recycled here rather than being taken to a landfill site.

The depot has become a convenient drop spot for clubs and charities who raise funds through bottle drives. These organizations can use the Rupert Bottle Depot facility for their sorting headquarters while working indoors in a warm and dry setting, a common practice for most bottle depots throughout B.C.

Encorp Pacific is the main player in making it possible for recycling depots to be opened in B.C. cities. They managed to work out a plan with the major pop companies to retrieve empty containers then see to it that these containers are directed to recycling facilities instead of landfill sites.

This system has worked so well over the last 4 years that the provincial government has shown interest.

Back on October 1, 1998, all beverage containers in B.C. had a fully refundable deposit applied to them. This excluded milk and milk substitue containers. This was good news for the owners of the Rupert Bottle Depot. They were quite busy preparing for the expansion and expected things to be quite busy after the first week in October. In fact, business went up 40% almost right away.

The island villages around Prince Rupert were offered a feasible way of returning their empties. If they can get their bottles/cans to any dock in Prince Rupert that is accessible by road, they are met there by the depot owners. The empties are picked up and refunded at the dock and the customer is on his way.

Once all the beverage containers are refunded, they are bagged and tagged then shipped to Prince George. From there the containers are shipped to various recyclers to be melted down and transformed into various products. Examples are new pop containers, carpeting, computer components, duffel bags and even clothing.

Each summer, the Rupert Bottle Depot holds two separate draws where clothing and tote bags made from recycled plastic pop containers are raffled off.

The stigma once attached to those frequenting bottle depots is ceasing to exist. Recycling is a trend that is catching on and all walks of life are taking it up. There has been an even mix in cultural and social backgrounds coming in and using the depot services. A lot of it is a direct result of the growing awareness that recycling is a necessary part to todays world and the cash back refund is a major contributor to this awareness.

Located just a few yards off Five Corners on Park Avenue in Prince Rupert, the Rupert Bottle Depot has an atmosphere where several new jokes are told during the day. It’s a friendly place where all those who enter the premises recieve a warm welcom and the bantering fills the air along with the rattling of cans and bottles.

A Tribute For Al
Ron Murdock

Al Miller was a man who had found his niche in life. For 23 years he manned the security desk at the Salvation Army in Saskatoon. Usually on the day shift from Monday to Friday, Al was always willing to fill in on other shifts if a co-worker was ill or needed time off. A cerebral man, Al had a heart of gold and an ever present smile on his face. The kindness that emitted from Al made many take note that maybe being pleasant was the way to go. In a world that some people feel they must bully and force others to do their bidding, Al knew there was a superior way of doing things via his gentle approach to life.

Sometimes when I hear Paul Young’s song; “Everytime You Go Away” I think of Al Miller. He left his mark on us in the way he gave the benefit of a doubt to one who needed it or went out of his way to assist someone.

Not a person who lived in the fast lane of life, Al took pleasure in the simple things of life. A quiet park bench in summer, a brisk walk in winter or bantering with friends and acquaintences.

Al was famous for two sayings of his; “Go straight home now” and “Behave yourself”. There are many of us who would love to hear those remarks once more.

Al Miller died in his sleep in the early mornings hours of April 11th. The Salvation Army at Ave. C and 19th in Saskatoon is now affectionately know as “Al’s Place.”

5/ A Look At Canadian Politics

“Politics offers yesterdays answers to today’s answers.” – Marshall McLuhan

When I hear of a provincial or federal election being called I grit my teeth and prepare to do without radio or TV for several weeks. The rhetoric reminds me all too much of the WWE follies. When Jesse Ventura, the ex wrestler and former governor of Minnesota, quit politics saying something to the effect about the lack of integrity in the business, it had me wonder just how low politics has sunk.

Canadian voters are a strange bunch. When they drag themselves to the voting booth, they don’t vote a leader in so much as vote a leader out. This happened in 1979 and 1984, when the federal Liberals were turfed out because voters were sick of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Same thing happened in 1992, when the federal Conservatives were turfed out in favour of the Liberals. Chretian will be resigning in 2004, much like Trudeau and Mulroney did in 1984 and 1992, respectively. All three of them saw the writing on the wall and quit before getting voted out of office. The same old routine happens in British Columbia when the Social Credit, NDP and Liberals have taken turns replacing parties that the voting public were sick off. The federal Canadian Alliance and provincial Conservatives in Alberta are only concerned with the bottom line, sharing an attitude that if one is poor that is their lot in life so deal with it.

A problem with federal politics in Canada is that there are too many parties on the scene. With the Canadian Alliance and Conservatives splitting the right wing vote and the NDP being nothing of significance, the Liberals have the easy road to victory. It’s common knowledge that in Canada, any party wanting to get elected just needs to get the Ottawa – Montreal – Toronto – Hamilton vote as this where the major population base is located. Western Canada. The sparsely populated Maritimes are essentially ignored by Central Canada.

In any given election anywhere from a third to half of Canadians don’t vote. They feel that voting is not only useless, but that all political parties will forget about them once the campaign is over. It’s like giving a blank cheque to the governing party to do as they wish. A solution to our political woes is to adopt the maximum two year term for presidents that the USA has. This would take the complacency factor out of being a Canadian Prime Minister.

The poor are the ones who feel most left out in the cold by the system. When concerned with day to day survival, the poor aren’t going to give a tinkers damn about public policy. Those with comfortable incomes are usually too insulated from poverty, unless they’ve been there, done that. Economic poverty is not a chance circumstance nor the result of people being lazy. It’s been said that poverty takes about 10 years off a person’s life. If this is true, how can it be justified that people are dying younger than necessary? One more reason to seek real and solid solutions to poverty issues and get away from the public relations manure that some would have us believe.

Over a few days, I took an informal study of what Saskatoon’s poor thought of voting and Canada’s political system. Here is what I got. “I don’t vote anymore. Haven’t for years. Politicians just lie.” “The politicians don’t know who we are once they get elected.” “In it just to collect a good pension after 8 years.” “What if everyone didn’t bother to vote? Probably the same old chaos would happen.” “I don’t think not voting would solve anything. Obviously the system needs to be overhauled but I’m at a loss on how to improve the big picture.”

Just a small sample but it may just reflect the pessimistic trend of what Canadians think of the political system.

6/ Expanding Its Horizons
Ron Murdock

In 1982 the first food bank in Canada opened its doors originally intended to be a temporary solution. But as Canada and the provinces dealt with the mounting deficit of the 80’s and 90’s, along with it came income support programs being weakened and dismantled. As a result it kept people circulating in a poverty cycle. In a political statement at the time, the provincial NDP believed it was a matter of priorities and the whole issue was not high on the list.

Bob Pringle, director of the Saskatoon Food Bank, said “utilities and rent are paid direct by Social Services to the company involved. As a result, the person’s pride is eroded.” Pringle adds that people need basic costs covered and incentives to work as it costs money to start working. Also Social Services only allows a small amount of money – about $50 – to be earned before wages taken off the support cheque. Pringle said the wage “exemption” should be higher.

“75% of the Saskatoon Food Bank clients are steady, 50% of them are children”, says Bob Pringle. Welfare rates are at 1980’s levels and minimum wage has gone up only four times in the last ten years. Still bills need to be paid and groceries need to be put on the table, so people have to do what is necessary to survive. As a result, people can come to the Food Bank every two weeks to get food.

Bob Pringle says he always tries to provide quality food in the food bank. Pringle says, “A high level of carbohydrates, in form of bread and other bakery items, are in stock and we need to provide a balance of protein such as eggs and meat. Donations from the public do come in and a $20,000 grant from the city of Saskatoon will be used to buy foodstuff with protein in it and items like infant formula. The Saskatoon Food Bank has to put taxes and utilities.

Bob Pringle says the budget is very tight as the Saskatoon Food Bank is a charity and doesn’t receive any core funding from anyone. Until all issues of poverty are addressed, food banks will remain necessary. Issues needed to be dealt with is a strengthened economy, more training allowances, better job training, literacy, nutrition, housing, child care and health care. Both government groups and individuals need to be involved.

The Saskatoon Food Bank is operated by 7 core staff members, 5 staff on a Canada work grant and rounded off by many full time and part time volunteers. The food bank takes 12 people from Can/Sask which provides opportunities to improve job skills and develop confidence in one’s self and get into the routine of being in a work place.

No longer just a food bank, the Saskatoon Food Bank opened up the Grassroots Resource and Learning Centre. At the Centre people can learn to use the Inter-Net, use a community kitchen, have income tax done, borrow books from a rescue library, use a free phone and read the daily paper. A clothing dept is here too. Clients pay $2 a month to use the clothing depot, which in turn pays for the phone and paper.

Bob Pringle says, “the Saskatoon Food Bank needs to expand its learning/skills development area by adding another 3000 square feet on another floor.” Pringle would like to get more sustainable finances, network more with other community groups and trying to put more nutritious food and appropriate levels in the food hampers.

Pringle tries not to judge people and wants to be emphatic and provide a safe place for people to be in. His motto is “trust everyone until proven otherwise.”

7/ To Gamble or Not to Gamble: The War Rages On
Ron Murdock

Stephen King wrote an interesting novel some years ago called “Needful Things”. Its storyline centered around a business owner – Leland Gaunt – who was able to get people or groups to turn against each other by selling exactly what the customer wanted. The money exchange was always within the person’s price range but the real price was high. Something similar has happened to Saskatoon in the last while.

The last several months in Saskatoon have seen quite a controvesy in which both sides have been quite vocal. Neither side has been willing to compromise on whether a casino should be built in the downtown core.

Those supporting a casino say it will provide hundreds of well paying jobs and training for future career opportunities, especially for those in the native community, who would be able to leave the poverty cycle behind them. Business owners are more than happy to see a casino built, especially hotels and restaurants, who stand to reap the most benefits. Downtown Saskatoon is in need of a shot in the arm, but isn’t as bad as other cities. When a business does close down, the space is usually leased fairly quickly.

On the other side of the coin, opponents say having a casino will only escalate the poverty cycle for everyone in Saskatoon. They also cite the negative effects the Regina casino has had on small businesses in that area. Bad as it is, I think critics don’t realize that large malls on the outskirts of Regina have done more to draw buisness from the downtown core, a common problem in many cities.

Detractors of the casino say supporters have been blackmailed into wanting a casino in Saskatoon through threats and deceptive claims. They also feel people were wrongly told a casino will revitalize downtown Saskatoon. They claim that in the casino in Windsor, Ontario, no one leaves the slot machines for any reason and cups between those machines are filled with urine, vomit, blood and hypodermic needles. It’s also been said that people using the Windsor casino aren’t spending money elsewhere than accommodations and restaurants. Plus it is claimed demands for escort agencies is up 300 percent.

One Saskatoon business owner said instead of having a casino, a sound stage where TV shows and movies were produced would be more beneficial to the city in the long and short term. Another business owner said employees shouldn’t be trained to gamble but be taught to learn better, more practical skills.

At a recent public meeting in Saskatoon, one casino supporter was shouted down when he said church people were forcing their religious beliefs on others. He went on to say religious folk don’t want a casino, “so they try to force us to comply with them.” For weeks afterwards, letters to the editor in the daily paper, denounced his “racist” views even though the speaker was native.

Even on billboards the virtues or evils of the casino have been heralded. One billboard said a casino would bring more tourism, tax revenue and jobs to Saskatoon, so what’s the gamble? In an apparent thinly disquised swipe at the casino, another billboard advertised a toll free number if they feel they have a gambling addiction. Another billboard read “Pray for Saskatoon -God.” Either someone saw the absurdity of the whole thing or they think they know what God thinks. Even a movie cinema has an anti-casnio ad on the screen prior to the movie.

One church in the eastern part of Saskatoon is planning to go from door to door to collect enough signatures to stop construction of the casino. Right away ads were heard on radio encouraging people not to sign it. I have to wonder how many religious folk who oppose the casino bid buy lottery tickets consistently or how many churches held a bingo night to raise funds.

If the casino is voted down, who will step up to the plate next and offer a way to create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in needed tax revenues in Saskatoon.

It’s time for Saskatoon to move forward into the 21st Century and leave the Dirty Thirties mindset behind where it belongs. What worked in yesteryear doesn’t work in today’s world. It’s a sad commentary of where we’re at when people can’t or won’t express honest opinions because they feel their motives will be attacked.

Just look what the casino debate has done to Saskatoon so far. What will it come to?

8/ Does The Media Portray Reality?
Ron Murdock

Two years ago, I wrote an opinion piece on the very first Survivour show on TV. Since then “reality” based TV shows have multiplied like cockroaches and slasher movies. I can only wish they would go back to the sewer from whence they came, but since I don’t have the corporate backing, my wish remains just that. I continually ask why this manure needs to be on prime time TV as it does little to make the world a better place to live.

The fallout from “reality” TV is that it de-sensitizes the viewer to the good things that life offers. In their quest to bring in bigger amounts of advertising money just how far will the TV networks go? I just hope it doesn’t lead to shows based on “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson or “The Long Walk” by Richard Bachman. Even in the print media, things can be improved. Words can be used as a way to intimidate people into silence and keep them in line. A society becomes stifled when new ideas aren’t expressed.

There are concerns about poverty, crime, addictions and abuse that need to be addressed. But have we gotten off the track regarding the true extent of these problems? When these topics are brought out from under the carpet, the media can create monsters out of them. If news stories were taken literally, one would be reluctant to drive because of road rage, walk at night in case they get mugged, have sex because of contracting one of the growing cases of STD’s or trust a priest on suspicion he is a child molestor.

Even though thousands of airplanes land safely everyday without incident, have one crash and the media is on it for days afterwards. Why the compulsion to do this when understaffed emergency rooms and the effects of welfare cutbacks on people are of more importance. Sensationlism is getting out of hand and how will this trend be broken? A look at most daily headlines makes me wonder just how many people suffer from anxiety after reading them.

Yet it isn’t enough to just pinpoint the problems that our world is going through. The media needs to provide a balanced perspective in their reporting. The media could focus more on what positive things are being done in the world. If newspapers reported more on solutions instead of the problems, how would people’s attitudes react? This is not to say good stories don’t appear in newspapers. Stories like Cindy Carsteins, who travels about in a wheelchair, still went on to get an education and has a good job in Saskatoon. Liz Evans who for the last eight years does what she can to bring hope to the hard to house in downtown Vancouver, B.C. The street person who got Amy Leslie’s car started on a cold Edmonton, Alberta night.

9/ Living with Schizophrenia
Ron Murdock

Schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The person affected by it may have delusions, hallucinations, hear voices, depression, apathy, paranoia, thought confusion and anxiety. People with schizophrenia often feel isolated, lonely and some have lost contact with friends and family. Education helps relatives and friends learn more about schizophrenia, as a support system is very important for all concerned. About 1% of the Canadian population has schizophrenia and about 2000 people with schizophrenia live in Saskatoon. In the majority of cases, schizophrenia occurs in the 16 to 30 year group.

It’s estimated that 10 to 15% of those with schizophrenia commit suicide as they can’t see a future that holds anything for them. The stigma associated with schizophrenia is being dealt with in a big way via small groups. Through Program Partnership, teams of 20 people in Saskatoon make speeches at schools, church groups, hospitals and in similar venues to educate people on what schizophrenia is.

There is a number of ways to treat schizophrenia. While stress and alcohol/drug abuse can cause a psychotic episode, medication is the cornerstone of good management of the disease. Various medications can help stabilize a person so they can deal with anxiety. Oral therapy – talking with someone, proper eating habits, having structure in one’s life and building up self esteem is very important to the person with schizophrenia as stepping stones to a stable lifestyle.

Previous to the 1970’s, a lot of money was spent on mental health in Saskatchewan. A number of institutions were closed down after this time across the province. The government didn’t follow up on what the effects of these closure would be. Nor did they keep any of their promises in regards to easing the transition period for patients entering the community.

It’s known that Saskatoon is lacking in approved apartment facilities for people with schizophrenia. To alleviate this, it’s felt that people with schizophrenia can and need to live in an apartment of their own, yet have an office in the complex that a resident can go to and deal with any problems with a mental health worker.

There is support for people with schizophrenia in Saskatoon such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, McKerracher Centre, Crisis Intervention and Crocus Co-op. Their website can be visited at

10/ Up In Smoke
Ron Murdock

Recently a federal law in Canada was passed that had all businesses forced to cover cigarettes sold on their premises. Billboard ads declared Saskatchewan was on the path to be smoke free.

Graphic pictures on cigarette packages showed what physical effects smoking has on the body. While not many of us will dispute the ill effects of smoking, does it give Big Nanny the right to make decisions for citizens?

Though I’m a lifetime non-smoker I do wonder how in good conscience bureaucrats continue to interfere in peoples lives by legislating what is good or bad for them. People will only quit smoking because of a honest desire to do so not because they are forced to do so as a result of duty or obligation.

I can’t see how hiding cigarettes behind a towel or in a cabinet will deter the under 18 crowd from smoking. It’s not as if minors don’t know or forget cigarettes will exist. The do-gooders sound like Chicken Little of “the sky is falling” fame when they say minors won’t buy cigarettes if they can’t see them. Maybe it’s time for the do-gooders to take a deep breath, relax and lighten up instead of continually trying to save people from themselves.

To legislate people’s habits and behaviour patterns is to replace friendship, support and trust with power, coercion and domination. In this atmosphere people are bound to feel resignation and resentment.

One resturant I frequent said the law to cover up cigarettes was “stupid”. Another Saskatoon business had a sign that read: ” New law. No one under 18 allowed in store.”

Some beg to differ. One smoker I know said the new anti-smoking laws is a good thing. He reckons the laws will get people to take a good hard look at what he called “a filthy habit”. Another smoker said during summer it would be okay to smoke outside but during winter it’s touch and go with the weather. He suggested inside smoking rooms with fans and odour eaters as a solution.

Many agree that nicotine is harder to quit than heroin. Others ask if it is worth spending tax money on this crusade when tax money could go for more important things.

How much of anti-smoking laws are to cover one’s arse over lawsuits, one can only speculate. How much of it is lies and misinformation remains to be seen.

Others feel it is a social experiment pitting the strong against the weak

11/ Cooking On A Budget
Ron Murdock

The first Salvation Army Community Kitchen in Saskatoon opened its doors for the first time in 1993. Originally in a small church, the community kitchen moved to its current location at the Salvation Army Community Centre at Ave. C and 19th Street in Saskatoon. Every person that uses the community kitchen’s services is charged $2.00, which covers the cost of the food used. The Community Kitchen is open on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month.

Thee are many things a person can learn while participating in a community kitchen. For example, there are several ways that a person can learn to feed themselves on a limited budget. Looking for specials, buy in items in bulk, purchasing no name products over brand names, planning ahead on what a person wants for their home menu, not going to the supermarket on an empty stomach, comparing prices in various stores are ways that a person can effectively shop. A person can look at the list of ingredients on every product to see if what they’re eating is nutritious.

If services of a food bank are necessary, one can learn to use this wisely and not throw food in the garbage or leave it on the street. But an individual can discover how to be more self reliant and not have to depend on food banks b learning how to budget their money.

A growing problem is the effects of hunger on families, especially young children. A youngster can get undernourished and an empty stomach affects their studies and they start acting out in an aggressive manner.

The Salvation Army Community Kitchen gets known mainly by word of mouth and is open o anyone who wants to learn how to cook. All they have to do is phone the office at the Community Centre and show up. As an added bonus, child care is provided.

12/ The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Ron Murdock

From the outside a hotel may not look like much but appearances can be deceiving. Other times they’re not. I’m not talking about the high end of the scale but these hotels are among the no star and no tell variety. Some are a good deal for the price, others should pay people to stay at their businesses. Let’s take a tour of a few of these places across Western Canada and see what is inside them.

In Prince Rupert, B.C. two places are worth mentioning.

The first one is Pioneer Rooms painted a hideous green colour that should never had been thought of never mind mixed into a paint can. I rented a room on the top floor over the winter of 96/97. Due to the heavy and continuous rainfall that Prince Rupert gets over winter, the roof had a bad case of wet rot in it. Which translates into my room having a bad musty smell to it. Combined with the fact that heat from the basement furnace didn’t make it up to the top floor, it meant my room was perpetually cold. No wonder I had the flu 5 weeks over a 7 week period. Four of the rooms up on the level I was on had to be seen to be believed. Three of them had just a heavy curtain separating them from the hallway. Couldn’t have done much for security or piece of mind or gear. The fourth room was about the size of an average closet. A single bed, lamp and small desk took up most of the space. Due to the slope of the roof, a person couldn’t stand up straight in this room. Plus these four rooms had no windows, so imagine if a fire broke out. The caretaker told me he went down to the basement one day because he noticed a bad aroma coming from there. He found that the septic tank had broken and its contents were seeping into the dirt floor. The owners of Pioneer Rooms eventually left town, with no forwarding address and owing a lot of money.

The Innlander Hotel in Prince Rupert was a real piece of work. Formerly two hotels situated side by side, a former owner bought both and joined the two together. What was created was a maze like atmosphere in the corridors. The front of the Innlander is nothing to write home about but the back of the building is living definition of what rotting away is all about. The inside of the building has taken on that dreary look that comes with the passing of time and many people. The Innlander has had its share of OD’s and VD over the years. Changes of management had one thing in common – take the money and run but never reinvest in renovations.

The National in Prince George is a place I will avoid for the rest of my days. I had gotten some day work that put cash into my pocket. Instead of hitting the road I was able to get a room at the National for $20. The extra payment started at 9 p.m. when I found out the room was right over where the band was playing. After a hour it drove me out to the streets where I stayed to 1:30 when the bar closed. I was surprised that the noise didn’t shake the sink off the wall.

The Parkside in Grande Prairie, Alberta was average in many respects. However I did get into a conversation in the hallway with a woman who was a stripper. The Parkside was part of her tour through Alberta. She didn’t mind me asking how she could bare all in front of drunken men liable to do anything after the third beer. She told me bouncers took good care of anyone who wanted to do any physical touching. The money was good, a lot better than working at McDonalds. Not only was money going for rent and food but going for tuition. Or so she said.

The Main Street Area in Winnipeg has some of the worst hotels known to man. They aren’t much safer than the streets where native gangs are in charge. The Leland was the worst of the bunch. Back in 1992 I needed time off the road as I had hitch-hiked from Whitehorse, Yukon to the Manitoba capital. From the outside the Leland looked good but thankfully I took up the desk clerk’s offer of viewing the room before paying for it. When I flicked on the lights, the walls changed from cockroach brown to piss green in less than five seconds. Since I’m not into having little critters for room mates I found myself other accommodations and I informed the Health Board of the incident. In 1999 I noticed the Leland had been torn down and replaced by a small insignificant park. I briefly wondered if all the cockroaches found a spot all together or went their separate ways.

The Brunswick Hotel in Moose Jaw is the low end of the scale in small town Saskatchewan. The price seemed good and I didn’t expect much more than the basics. But as I climbed the stairs and entered through the security doors, it was obviously the hotel hadn’t a good airing out since Al Capone was said to have spent time in Moose Jaw’s tunnel system. The only good thing about the room was that the bed was made and there were no cockroaches. On the other side of the coin, there were some undesirable things. The floor hadn’t seen a vacuum cleaner in weeks. The door lock looked ready to fall off at any moment. A plastic shopping bag was under the bed, it had a pair of shoes in it with a sock in each shoe. To top it off there was a used condom under the radiator. I kept my gear off the floor just in case something crawled in it. At one point during the late evening, someone did three laps around the corridor. For the two days I was there, I never really felt clean in the hotel despite having 2 showers.

The Empire Hotel in Regina is better though the area surrounding the hotel is on the rough side. The rooms were basic but clean I told the desk clerk I had troubles opening the door, she told me just how to do it as the lock was the original one when the hotel was built. I was also told that when I got back to the hotel after 9 p.m., knock firmly on the door as the evening man locked it at this time and didn’t answer if it was shook hard.

The Regina YMCA is a good place to stay for those who don’t have a lot of cash to spend. Private rooms were the usual basic of a sink, locker and single bed. Washrooms and showers stalls were shared with other residents. Two nights stay cost me just $44 and I had full use of the gym and steam room. The only problem is that the rooms go fast and vacancies are rare.

The Royal Hotel in Weyburn has really turned things around in recent years. Once a dive, the Royal has been commended by building inspectors for making major improvements in the building. As I was checking for hostels in Saskatchewan, I noticed one was located in the Royal. I was surprised as I didn’t think many hostellers would go out of their way to go to Weyburn. I was astonished by what I found. Most hostel rooms and washrooms are shared by several people. Not here. I got a room and washroom to myself plus a colour TV with basic cable. The first time I stayed there, the price was $17 per night, the second year $14, third year $10. A trend I can really appreciate.

The Ritz in Saskatoon is long gone but is well remembered, though it was a member of the cockroach manor chain. The beverage room could have been used by psychology students for case studies. Tony the Waiter was known for approaching tables and pointing his finger at the person as his way of asking what the customer wanted to drink. Rules were lax. Prostitutes went from table to table offering “services” for booze or money. If some of the drinkers were of legal drinking age, it would have been a surprise. When the neighbouring Royal Bank bought the Ritz and leveled it to expand theirs, it was the only time I agreed with a bank doing this.

13/ Politics of Housing and Homelessness
Ron Murdock

Imagine yourself walking down the street. You come across a partially eaten sandwich, pizza slice or another discarded food item. You’re so hungry that you pounce on it eat it no matter how long it’s been sitting there. Plus there is the health issue of whose mouth it was in prior to the homeless person. For the homeless this is part of day to day survival. Judgment of others doesn’t help the situation. What does being called lazy, drunk, junkie or non-deserving of anything better do to a person’s self respect? The depression despondency that is part of being homeless is a burden that drains the future of any hope. Drug/alcohol addiction occur as the homeless wants to blot out the pain of the moment, they get fed up can’t cope with the situation any longer.

How many homeless would jump at a chance to improve their fortune in life if given the opportunity to do so? Hopelessness should not be a way of life for anyone never mind it being a factor in a homeless person’s life. The environment they live in is tough enough, pitting their strength against what the weather throws at them, possible gang attacks so on. Some do choose the homeless lifestyle willingly. They will refuse help no matter what offer is put on the table. Some are delusional, don’t or won’t fit in anywhere as they feel there will be too many rules or regulations to put up with. Others feel bureaucracy, sometimes known as Big Nanny, will govern every aspect of their lives, placing their own life on hold every decision will be made for them without being consulted.

Statistics university degrees following a person’s name means diddaley squat when dealing with real life issues. Do gooders wring their hands wag their index fingers while saying “Look at what is being done. Both are sitting in ivory towers, too insulated from what is really happening on the streets. The poor are shuffled off into the Twilight Zone of the out of sight, out of mind mentality.

The real experts are those who experienced homelessness firsthand the front line workers who deal with it on a day to day basis. How many people are going to have to die before anyone with the power to do something will notice?

Should housing be subject to the laws of supply demand or be part of the social agenda? Money for social housing has been decreased in parts of Canada over the last few years. Illegal suites, many of them are the only affordable rentals available, are shut down, forcing even more to live on the streets. Some homeless have worked for years, some still are, yet their efforts have come to nothing. They can no longer afford a place to rent or buy. Is living on the streets all they get in return for their labours? Or will the profit margin win every time?

People need supportive housing not mini institutions to live in. People shouldn’t have to worry about an eviction notice from a corporation who wants develop the property for trendy high cost condos. People need have a right to live in a place with secure locks, in a safe neighbourhood, have a garden if desired cast down roots