Wednesday, January 10, 2007

North Central: Canada's Worst Neighborhood

North Central (Regina) - my home neighborhood - all my formative years were there (ages 12-26): I got an education there, learned about life, became a criminal, was poverty-stricken, got my first car, was introduced to my faith, made my closest friends, and was around many of the Aboriginal people groups from across Saskatchewan (whom my closest friends consist of). This neighborhood has been deemed by Macleans magazine as 'the worst neighborhood in Canada' - that's the whole country - based on statistics. What does it mean - it means I gotta break this down.

I was watching news and they interviewed a lady named Julie Shore (who still lives in the neighborhood) - and I think she exemplifies a lot of what this neighborhood is. Her life story consisted of these elements - being stabbed, having her mother killed, addicition to drugs, and then turning to faith - in which she admits she finally got her 'first job' (she was approximately 27). I watched the story and I was like 'and...', I mean this is so commonplace that I hear her story and I barely 'bat an eye' - been there or seen there. Here goes the story.

The statistic is really not news to me - I think I knew this was the case. Growing up and attending Sacred Heart School we would compete with the neighboring schools for the highest crime/violence rates amongst schools - Sacred Heart won the dubious award 2 years in a row in the late 80's. I actually am not sure that title ever leaves the school systems in that area.

I lived in the neighborhood for almost 15 years and I can say that crime rates grew the whole time I lived there. Last year was the culmination of year's of struggle - Regina was both the murder capital (per capita) and crime capital (per capita) in all of Canada - we have dropped to 2nd half-way through this year. Most murders in Regina occur in North Central - or can be traced back to that neighborhood. Then you have a strong drug scene, the growth of gangs (who run the drugs), prostitution (even children), mass poverty (welfare), education rates which equal under a 50% graduation rate, lack of funding for programs, alcoholism, and a crime rating that shoots through the roof for theft and break n enters - so much so if you live there you expect to have your car broken into - we even keep our doors open so they don't break a window. Is it the worst? I only lived there and nowhere else - to me it is pretty bad and Julie Shore called it 'the worst neighborhood she has ever seen' (a sentiment shared widely in North Central).

There used to be no 'guns' in the inner-city or North Central - the last few years changed that - I have a friend serving a 3 year sentence for a shooting at the Empire Hotel. Gangs and drugs made it neccesary for the equipment - but it's only been introduced in the last 5 years. Knives and stabbings are horrendous - apparently in Vancouver they called us 'stab city' - a moniker with some truth - I have a few friends that have been stabbed in the past 10 years (nice scars). But this is the horror of living there - and most of this sh*t comes out at night - and I actually advise people not to walk through there at night - for safety purposes (if you don't know anyone) - might get jumped and robbed (happens more than it gets reported in our city). North Central is weird that way - a lot of sh*t never gets reported - we just 'deal with it' (one way or another).

For me this is my home neighborhood - when I get the chance to be there I am. I have such a love for that place and I want to see it become a better place for the poor, broken, destitute, and sometimes - despised. That neighborhood has some of the most open and nicest people I have ever met in my life - and they are realer than real down there - they don't mince words or beat around the bush - another aspect of it I love - 'it's this way or that way (don't sh*t me)'. I found many of the people down there to be quite welcoming and racism is quite small - it's racism in authority that have kept many of the Aboriginals in this neighborhood out of opportunities. I love the fact I can relate with the people in the 'hood' - I am one of their own who is making a difference - and trying to help others get employment. I just love that place - I actually wanna move back but that's for me and my wife to argue over.

I'm just saying - the report is saying something to the city of Regina - stop ignoring the problem - just because it doesn't effect you and you don't see it - doesn't mean it ain't happening - this Mcleans article was a wake-up call - let's start making things right.


Cinder said...

"I'm just saying - the report is saying something to the city of Regina - stop ignoring the problem - just because it doesn't effect you and you don't see it - doesn't mean it ain't happening - this Mcleans article was a wake-up call - let's start making things right."

as i read the 'concerns' from people in the paper, because they were misquoted or's hogwash.

you're is happening and people can turn their backs, shut their ears to things, but it won't change that it is happening and things do need to be made right. my worry is that people won't see it as a wake-up call...that the 'cold shoulder' approach will continue to play out.

SocietyVs said...

Cinder, that's my worry with missing the opportunity while the 'kettle is still hot' - The opportunity to make some wholesale changes by the city of Regina is there - will they step forward and start listening to better plans for that neighborhood? But on an individual level also, it makes me realize we have to start noticing that some people just do have a harder time then some of us - and maybe doing something to lighten that burden shouldn't be considered 'enabling' - it should just be considered.

chris said...

I cannot relate to your upbringing in that situation. I was raised pretty much in isolation. My parents owned a twenty acre homestead east of town. I spent the majority of my time walking in the woods. I do, however, admire your love and compassion for those living in your old stomping grounds. Your just one cool dude!!

BrotherKen said...

i am disappointed with the effort to downplay this article. pat fiacco and all at city hall should have taken advantage of it to show that they really care for this city. instead our mayor urges us to stop our subscriptions to the magazine... talk about sticking your head in the sand! i can't say i would have any real solutions if i were mayor but i find it hard to believe that city hall is doing all it can. propose a special tax to address the problem? offer employment to area residents to do property upgrades? i don't know, anything but continue the party line that regina is "canada's greatest city". don't get me wrong, i know there are some great things happening in the area but it needs some serious attention. i heard a statement once; "if you ever see a man with no shoes buy him some. that is a man in a bad way." north central needs a new pair of shoes.

Cinder said...

"it makes me realize we have to start noticing that some people just do have a harder time then some of us - and maybe doing something to lighten that burden shouldn't be considered 'enabling' - it should just be considered."

i completely agree with you on this one. there are ways of reaching out to people, helping to lighten their burden and also helping to equip them in new ways so that they will be able to be self-sufficient. i don't see that as 'enabling' them...i see it as offering love and acceptance.

there's always room to grow and man alive, people do have their heads in the sand a lot of the time i think. it needs to change on so many levels. and really, i think it will happen with one individual after another making that change...also realizing that all things do make a difference, even though they might seem don't always know the full impact of your's truly powerful.

BrotherKen said...

cinder, good post. i once heard a sermon on giving and the pastor stated that he never gives to someone panhandling because that would be enabling them in their weaknesses and addictions. i actually said no to every panhandler for a while. it wasn't long though before i ran into a few verses on giving and it struck me that i just don't find that rationalization anywhere. so i returned to giving when asked. i don't feel bad if i don't have any money for someone, but if i do i will usually help them out with at least a few dollars and with no thought of whether they are going to buy beer or whatever.

relating back to this discussion i would have to try to put myself in the shoes of a north central community resident. i can certainly see myself wishing i could just have the scraps off the tables of the wealthy around me. i think of the whole cycle of needing job experience to get a job but how can i get job experience if nobody will hire me thing. lack of a job means turning to alcohol, drugs, crime, family breakups, and on and on. if i lived in this neighborhood i just know that i would be looking for any kind of hope for a better life.

then comes along an article that shines a light on the problem. i am sure it would give me some hope that something might be done to assist me (or someone i love). but no, the mayor gets on his high horse and says don't pay any attention to that, things are not that bad.

i think it was a terrible thing that the pastor said, but i think our mayor's reaction on this was worse. it was a great opportunity to show a little caring provide a ray hope.

Awareness said...

Hi there.

I read this article yesterday and was blown away by it. I had no idea.... Though I have never been to Regina, grew up in southern Ontario and have lived in New Brunswick for the past 19 years.......... I read and watch the news daily......and follow all levels of politics, this is the first time I had read of the serious crime and poverty issues of Regina. I appears (and your post reinforces) that despair lives and breathes in North Central. How this was not known right across the country dumbfounds me.

Gatehouse did an amazing job (as did the photographer) capturing the depth of the despair and the plight. When I got to the quotes of the "I love Regina" mayor my initial thoughts......? This article is going to blow this man's mind!! If as you are saying he is reacting by denying.......he will not be the leader needed to rally the other community leaders to turn this around.

There are so many layers of need here....... it's difficult to know where to start........ except to find out what other cities (internationally too) have done to turn their communities around....

it can be has to be done..........and it must start at the grassroots leading the way, not by someone in Ottawa throwing money at an issue when they aren't fully grasping the severity of it. Both levels.....AND every community member in between needs to somehow contribute something and learn to work together.

I wouldn't be waiting for this mayor to get with the game. He's taking the whole thing personally if he's reacting so defensively.

BTW........I find it very interesting that my awareness of Regina occured at the same time that I found your site...... and that the first question I asked you was about politics..... perhaps I should have asked about your interest in "community level engagement" type politics? :)

I look forward to reading your updates insights on your home over the next while........ and of the backlash from the article.

One more thing.........I think Jonathon Gatehouse is North Central's biggest ally now..... he can keep it in the that no one forgets........

SocietyVs said...

" perhaps I should have asked about your interest in "community level engagement" type politics?" (Awareness)

I am all for work in the community - by I don't focus so much on the political side - more on the community side. I have a real passion that the church (as a whole) might rally itself together as change agent and get involved in the struggle - since they do have people and resources for such an endeavor (working side by side the people of the community). The city of Regina has pushed the issue to the side (for now) - my hope if the church can recognize we have 'real' problems in our city - maybe we can do something?

I was talking with a friend about her trip to Venezuala this Christmas and we got to talking about Abriginals (from each country). She was thoroughly amazed by the amount of business these Venezualan communities had - it seemed they had an economic freedom of some sort - she related this back to Saskatchewan (she is also Aboriginal) - she admitted the Aboriginals here have it worse. We mentioned things like reserves, economic disparity, and residential schools - and we saw that some of these problems are deep in the system. But it made me realize we can't fix the problem at home by giving to other countries (i have not problem with this) but we have to start to focus on our backyard - for me, this is some of my cousins and friends dying in the streets.

Awareness said...

hi there........oh, I totally agree. We need to look after our own. So many people live with their heads in the sand, and have no idea how desparate some of our own community member's lives and living situations are.

I have seen a great deal of systemic poverty in and around my area because part of my job is to meet with people in their own learn their stories and to try to help them move forward or get more help, or whatever it is they need. The systems we live within are all set up as "reactive" and can only produce band-aids to such serious problems. It's not working, obviously, and especially with respect to aboriginal people. Our country's citizens should be ashamed.

One of the biggest problems in coming up with viable solutions is that everything needs to "fit" within a political window of 4 years..........that's how government and politicians work. They don't look beyond the next elections. The serious problems need long term visioning and long term healing.......not reactive intervention.....not band-aids, and certainly not healed during the time between one election and another.

Community has to work within the political milieu, unfortunately....for many reasons (money being one of them)....all facets of, church, neighbourhoods, bureaucracy, schools, individuals, activists, artists, ministers, kids, adults, elders, media ALL have to figure out a way to work together. To me that's community development. Don't you think?

SocietyVs said...

"Community has to work within the political milieu" (Awareness)

First off, which community says this? Maybe the problem is we live like this - like the gov't is the answer - maybe the answer is doing something and then gov't plays some catch up. If it is every 4 years they change - doesn't mean we have to - I ain't towing no political line as a church member or as an Aboriginal - to be honest - none of the parties reflect my desires amyways.

But I do like the call for unity within the community - but this can be done with-out gov't intervention or without their approval - we just need to develop the plans. I see church unity (in a mass sense) as a solution to the problem (regarding funds and resources) - at least a step in the right direction - and this in a strong, solidified way. But how do we get there is the question? I ain't asking something impossible am I? (maybe I am but I hold out hope against hope)

If you look deeply, individual churches run the resources (including finances) and programs they have without any real gov't intervention - they just do it and police themselves. Why can't all we unite to fight poverty and come up with answers to problems - I mean the church claims to have the 'answer' - in a unifed struggle for the under-dog and the hurt in our society? Do we really need political help in the endeavor and will any community organization care if we don't have it? I guess I am thinking, we as the church, can make a difference - but again - I could be wrong.

curious servant said...

very sad...

Awareness said...

The problem is that we live like this......and I agree, it needs to change. I am a firm believer of grassroots initiatives... .....nothing EVER got done without one or two people coming up with an innovative idea and going from there. Government always lags behind the good ideas.......always wrapped up in choking bureaucracy.

Change is a dirty word with is the ability to think outside of the box........ they should not lead......but I do believe that all have to be involved in the solution.

Government, at the municipal level for example needs to oversee physical infrastructure......the province is a key player in health and social assistance and housing. The Feds? Well who the heck knows what they're good for these days!

I would love to sit down and talk with you about this.......I think we're on the same page. My feeling is that we'd begin bouncing many many ideas off one another.......

I want to share one of my favourite quotes..............

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

SocietyVs said...

I think awareness we are on the same page here - since we want the same outcomes - of you think politics can help in some way (you may be wiser than me on this) - but the objective is the same and I am open to all ideas to solving the problem. That's why if you were here offering such solutions I would ask for an 'action plan' to meet the goal with politics - I am open to it - but I am a pessimist.

Julie said...

I can feel your heart in what you have to say here and also the heart of Jesus. He would probably live there or at least spend alot of time investing in the community to bring good there. Not exactly sure what he would 'do' but he loved the poor, sinners and socially outcast so he would gravitate towards this place and make his mark.


kevin beck said...

Hi. I like the new look. The blue is awesome.

I have friends in Northern Sask. who work with First Nations. Soon they are planning on heading to Saskatoon to work with street people.

Blessings to you

BrotherKen said...

our mayor did not react to this as i hoped but at least he stirred up enough controversy for macleans to publish another article next week. i guess no matter how well they represent the issue the spot light has been put on it. society; i am hearing what you are saying about the residents having to be the major part of the solution but i do think it means a lot when the city gets behind the citizens.