Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fearing the Other: Homelessness

Calgary is an baby-boomer among Canadian cities. Some 100 people are said to arrive daily in this oil’n’gas city, thus driving an exponential increase of population in an otherwise still rural city. Most people nowadays talk about criminality, growing insecurity and homelessness. Newspapers are already engaged in a campaign asking for tougher police intervention. And of course, local politicians have already incorporated the discourse of safety and security into their populist-driven agendas.

But beyond the rhetoric, it is true that as a city grows, so do criminality and insecurity. I do not know if there is a necessary causality here (I prefer to think not, because causality is a very tricky thing), but today I started noticing the homeless downtown. Not that I do not see them, but rather that this time I started looking at them with different eyes, held my bag closer and looked around to make sure the encounter could classify as safe. My friend added: “Did you hear about the homeless in Toronto who killed a tourist?” and we plunged into our the usual discussion about feeling safe in a big, growing city.

Reflecting on difference and living with it are two different things: the first is a cognitive endeavor, while the second is an embodied practice. As homelessness becomes associated with criminality, our previously 'tolerant' attitudes are changing. But it's not only about attitudes. It's also about our physical fears being awaken by the constant association of homelssness and criminality in various public spheres. We read about this, we see it on TV, we start talking about it with our friends and before you know it, our behavior and our explanations of this behavior have changed. This only shows, I think, how our understanding and embracing of difference is neither static, nor outside our contextual and contingent embodied existences.

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