Friday, October 29, 2010

Solution-focused therapy

"Let not the needy... be forgotten
Nor the hope of the poor be taken away."

- Anglican Book of Common Prayer

The recent result of the slow carnage in the North End has been met with considerable attention. National Post columnist Father Raymond J. de Souza, in town over the weekend to lecture at St. Margaret's Anglican Church, was shocked by the violence (and interested in this blog's take on it, I must say), and made it the subject of his column in Thursday's Post.

A city cannot afford this much disorder; indeed, this much disorder defeats the purpose of cities.

"The North End of Winnipeg is not an insignificant part of the city. It covers some 100 square blocks. So when local police advised on Saturday night that no one in the North End should leave their homes, and advised everyone else to stay away from the area, it was a temporary, but devastating, acknowledgement of a failure so complete that even living together was not possible."

Main Street looking south from the corner of Pritchard Avenue, from atop a fire-damaged apartment block that has since been demolished. Summer, 2006

Taking a broader look, to the North End as a neighborhood that is separated from the rest of the city by a giant rail yard; where residents face layers and layers of official and unofficial racial discrimination, significant barriers to employment and post-secondary education, inadequate and unaffordable housing, inadequate public welfare, and a lack of investment in local infrastructure and public recreation programming.

This is, of course, the North End that existed until the 1960s and '70s.

Since then, billions have been spent to move the North End away from this, and toward being a more socially equitable place: a place where newcomers are not confined to immigrant qhettos by an indifferent government; cast to the winds of industrial capitalism and an array of independent charity-based agencies provided by ethnic benevolent societies and altruistic Methodists. Instead, they are housed in communities by a deeply caring central government, and given a social safety net of post-industrial social democracy.

How has it worked so far?

Put another way, there are today more government-funded initiatives, agencies and resource centres of various kinds on Selkirk than there were in 1985. Is the surrounding neighborhood better off? Is it safer? Has poverty decreased? Far from ideal (like in 1992, when all was well in the world), many would say, but wouldn't there be at least some improvement overall? Wouldn't the streets of the North End become a just a little safer with every Lighthouse the Provincial government opens in the neighborhood? Wouldn't the culture of poverty become just a little less pervasive with every new implementation of the poverty reduction strategy?

What passes for "dealing with the root causes" has barely scratched the surface, and with no more effectiveness than top-down, numbers-based, foreign invader-type policing models have. The real root cause of the crime and death in the North End is that the neighborhood no longer has any roots at all.

Hanging out in front of the Merchant's Hotel, Selkirk Avenue and Andrews St. Circa 1945