1. Renoviction? What renoviction?
The ban on renovictions has been lifted with the end of the provincial health state of emergency. There are new rules in place though around kicking out tenants in order to upgrade properties and jack up the rent. But are landlords following them? In many cases, the answer seems to be no.
Zane Woodford brings us the story of the Bluenose Inn and Suites, a rundown motel whose owner, John Ghosn, describes it as “no longer appropriately habitable.” Motel management sent tenants a letter saying they had 60 days to leave, and that the property was being “retired” due to issues including “major problems” with “the septic system.”
Woodford notes that because the property is on city water and sewer, there is no septic system. Current regulations also require landlords to give tenants who are being renovicted 3 months notice, and to compensate them.
Although Ghosn’s company, Enqore Developments, has a development agreement for a new building on the site, and is advertising it (see the lovely rendering above), Ghosn tells Woodford he would never illegally evict anyone. He’s just a guy in an untenable situation:
“Am I expected to be a public housing authority that will house people that have nowhere to go? What are my options? What am I to do when there’s sewer backups and electrical issues and plumbing issues, roof leaks, what am I supposed to do?”
Woodford speaks with Mark Culligan of Dalhousie Legal Aid, who says the story highlights the plight of tenants living “in this kind of permanent, semi-transient lifestyle in hotels and motels, and that happened here in Nova Scotia during the pandemic. No one’s keeping track of how many people are living in these hotels and motels.” He also talks to Brandy McGuire, one of the tenants being forced out of the Bluenose. She pays $1,400 a month for a motel room with a kitchenette, in a building whose owner says its uninhabitable.
2. Studying violence against women services during the pandemic
Alexa Yakubovich is one of three Dalhousie University professors studying impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable populations, Yvette d’Entremont reports. Yakubovich, who teaches in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, received $500,000 in funding for a project called “Identifying and contextualizing best practices in responding to violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
From d’Entremont’s story:
“The pandemic has increased how many women are experiencing violence, but also the severity of the violence that women are experiencing,” Yakubovich said in an interview.
She pointed to public health restrictions that made it difficult for women to access services, particularly when they were isolating at home with violent partners or violent family members.
“That obviously impacts the support that women can get, but it also can impact how long they’re in these situations for, and how violent and extreme it can get,” she said.
Yakubovich tells d’Entremont the research has impacts far beyond the pandemic:
One in three women experience violence from an intimate partner, and Yakubovich said it is the greatest determinant of women’s injury and disease internationally…
“We really need to know these services are chronically underfunded. They were hard hit from the pandemic. How can we actually improve them in order to reduce one of the most prevalent health issues for women?”
3. Councillors could make it legal for people to camp in parks; they just don’t want to
Camping in municipal parks is an infraction under Halifax Bylaw P-600. But Sakura Saunders of the P.A.D.S Community Network (the acronym stands for “Permanent, Accessible, Dignified and Safe”) would like to change that, Zane Woodford reports.
Saunders made a presentation to council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee yesterday, asking councillors to create a bylaw exemption that would allow people to shelter in parks without fear of being criminalized:
“Sometimes criminalization looks like violent police evictions of encampments. Other times it looks like unhoused persons receiving endless tickets that they will never be able to pay. Other times it manifests as over policing, surveillance, profiling, intimidation, harassment, and stigmatization of unhoused persons just trying to survive,” Saunders said.
“Consistently threatening unhoused persons with police intervention creates a persistent state of fear that augments harm.”
I am contractually obligated to use the phrase “you will be shocked to learn” at least once per Morning File, so… you will be shocked to learn the councillors on the committee were not exactly keen on this suggestion. Lisa Blackburn seemed to feel that geez, no matter how much the city does for these homeless folks it’s never enough.
“It feels like you’re spinning your wheels here, basically, because the more we do, the more that’s needed, and it just seems to be the less support we’re getting,” Blackburn said.
Saunders said that’s why P.A.D.S. isn’t looking at HRM as a housing supplier; it’s just asking the municipality to reduce the harm it’s doing to unhoused people.
Read the full story for reactions from other councillors on the committee, including fan favourite David Hendsbee.
Woodford’s piece made me think of this Washington Post piece by realtor Shannon Jones, whose son lives on the streets.
Jones talks about listening to people going on about “the homeless”:
I was in a group of people who were discussing “the homeless” here in Los Angeles, as if they were one big, indistinguishable group — “the homeless” causing problems in this area or that area.
I thought about saying something, pointing out that you shouldn’t use such a broad brush to describe homeless people, that these are individuals, each with their own story. But by the time I thought of what I might say, the conversation had moved on. I’m embarrassed to admit I said nothing.
I’m not usually at a loss for words. But homelessness makes people uncomfortable, particularly in my world. I’m a real estate agent, and homes are my livelihood.
We seem to love binary thinking. People have homes or they’re homeless. Thinking like this is what allows entire groups to be lumped together, and therefore more easily dismissed. The binary thinking applies to the whole idea of homelessness too: One day you’ve got a roof over your head, the next you don’t. But, of course, as Jones writes, it’s not like that:
The process of his becoming homeless as an adult didn’t happen overnight. It occurred gradually, then suddenly…
There was a group home, a shared apartment, another group home, a sober-living facility, a brief incarceration, a few rehab facilities, a residential treatment facility, some more group homes and then briefly, during the pandemic, a stint back at home… Then came more group homes and a whole series of flophouse motels with vouchers through his mental health service provider. Then he ran out of options.
This is one of the reasons I suspect the term “unhoused” has come into broader use. There are many different ways to not have a home.
4. A prescription for nature
Nature prescriptions are coming to the Maritimes. Yvette d’Entremont reports that the PaRx program has been launched in the Maritimes, meaning health professionals can now prescribe various ways of spending time in nature as a formal treatment.
What does that mean in practical terms? d’Entremont explains that when people receive a formal prescription they tend to take it more seriously than getting general oral advice.
[Dalhousie professor and clinical psychologist Dr. Shannon] Johnson’s research is dedicated to understanding the mental and cognitive benefits of spending time in — and connecting with — nature. She urges people to make it a regular part of their routine rather than turning to it only in times of stress or to escape something difficult. She offers an online list of ideas to connect with nature in any season.
“Not everyone faces the same barriers, so it’s important to recognize that helping people spend time in nature is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Those prescribing nature time need to also work with their clients and patients to make a feasible plan for incorporating nature into their lives,” Johnson said.
“What’s getting in the way and what would help reduce some of those barriers? Prescribing a National Parks pass might be the right fit for some, whereas providing information about how to get involved with a community garden might be the best fit for others.”
A year and a half or so ago I interviewed Chúk Odenigbo, a doctoral student in medical geography. Before the pandemic shifted his area of research, he was looking at the importance of connections to nature as part of healing. He told me even little things can make a difference: being able to see trees or green space from a hospital window, for instance, or having access to urban trails or parks. As Johnson says above, it’s not necessarily about getting out into the wilderness.
1. Being less precious about books
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I’ve become less precious about writing — and I realized I feel the same way about books. I used to be in the “books are precious” camp. Don’t write in them, don’t dog-ear them, and definitely do not recycle them. Save the books!
What changed? Researching my own book and co-hosting a books podcast means I’ve read lots of books that I need to quote and write about. Taking notes elsewhere became onerous. Unless the books were valuable (or belonged to someone else), I started underlining and taking notes in the margins.
But a bigger part of the answer lies with my dad. When he died a dozen years ago, he left behind lots of books. Thousands and thousands of books. More books than anyone could ever deal with without turning it into a full-time job or losing their mind. Listen, I loved my dad’s book collection growing up. I was probably the only kid in my suburb reading Stephen Leacock. But the man did not know when to stop. He had an apartment filled with bookshelves — and that wasn’t even the place where he lived.
My brother and I triaged. Some of you will despair at this, but we threw out hundreds of books. They went into the dumpster. Nobody needed some of those old travel guides, for instance. When the Ukrainian movers came to take away the rest of the books — they were going to be stored at my sister’s — one of them asked what was in all these heavy boxes. Books, I said. “Nice hobby,” one of them said, “but very hard to move.”
My father was an anglophile and a bibliophile. He was a self-made businessman and self-taught intellectual. He’d had to drop out of high school during the depression, because the fees went up. This was public school, but there were fees. He helped lead a student strike against them. I asked him about it once:
I was part of a group who led a student strike at Baron Byng High School. Partway through the year, the school announced that it would be raising its fees. I only went to high school for a year, because my parents couldn’t afford the new fees.
We organized a strike. For two days, no students went to school. But then some of the parents — the ones who could afford the new fees — called a meeting to complain about the strike. Why weren’t their children in school? I was supposed to make a speech — I did make a speech — but I was nervous as hell. After that, the strike collapsed.
So books were important to my dad. They were in some ways a symbol of his having overcome the formal education he never had. I appreciated that. But there were practical issues too. Namely, what the hell were my siblings and I going to do with all these books?
I’ve noticed a few stories about books in the last few months, and polarizing reactions to them.
In January, CBC ran a story about Myriam Gaudet, a Cornwall, Ontario woman who has “saved” some 200,000 books, most of them thrift shop discards.
Have you ever looked through a thrift shop book section? Now imagine the stuff they throw out.
Gaudet’s books fill a bookstore, a barn and two farmhouses.
What Gaudet calls a “tsunami of books” is flooding in primarily from seven thrift stores in the Cornwall area. Often, donated books can’t be sold in a timely fashion, and so they are taken off the shelves and deposited at the local dump.
Gaudet said she learned of the problem a few years ago, when she ran the book department at a for-profit thrift store. More than three-quarters of the donated books were never sold.
She now collects books from seven thrift shops, including the Salvation Army:
Julie Leroux manages the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Cornwall. For the last three years, she says, the store has set aside 300 to 700 books for Gaudet every week. She’s delighted the books aren’t going to waste.
“[Myriam’s] vision, her need for books… is just as strong as ours,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody gets the chance to be able to read.”
Well, OK, but there are now 200,000 mostly uncatalogued books spread out over four buildings, and Gaudet is considering building another one. Who is going to read these books?
There are nearly 400 comments on the CBC story, and the comments I read were pretty evenly split between admiration and people thinking she should just let the damn books go.
A couple of weeks ago, on Facebook, a writer friend in her 70s shared a link to letters from New York Times readers about “death cleaning” — the art of cleaning up your clutter before you die. Here again, opinion was divided. The post was not public, so I’m not going to quote anyone, but there were those who felt it was important to get rid of as much as possible now, and others who objected to the term “clutter,” saying there may be a lot of treasures in that stuff.
It’s true, there may be. But wouldn’t it be better to ensure those who come after know about those treasures rather than hoping they’ll discover them?
I understand the hesitation to throw books out. I really do. But all-too-often our refusal to make the hard decision to get rid of a book simply punts the decision to someone else. We may wash our hands of it, but all we’ve done is make it someone else’s problem.
Our local thrift shop, run by the food bank, has donation bins. They used to have very clear instructions posted, including no encyclopedias, no textbooks, no computer manuals. They also say not to leave items outside the bins. I would regularly see boxes full of encyclopedias, textbooks, and sometimes computer manuals sitting in boxes outside these bins. Whoever dropped them off probably felt good about not throwing away books. Someone will love them! But instead all they have done is pass on the responsibility for throwing them out to someone else.
The same goes for the library. If you are going to donate books to the library, be selective. Libraries have very clear guidelines about what they do and do not want.
Halifax Public Libraries, for instance, are very specific about donations they take, and about the problems caused by unwanted donations:
We think it’s great that you want to share with your community, and naturally you thought of the Library. You’re not alone. Each year, we receive many hundreds of donated items—much more than we can accommodate.
Storing, sorting, and disposing of unused items creates work for our staff, and the Library also pays to have unused items recycled, so please check the list below to see what types of items we accept and, if in doubt, contact your local branch.
After noting what they are looking for, the library is clear about what they do not want:
We do not accept:
- Items that are out-of-date or soon to be, for example older computer models, VHS tapes and cassettes, magazines, textbooks, travel guides. Generally, most nonfiction older than 5 years won’t be added to the collection
- Items that are likely to be in low demand, for example Encyclopedias, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books
- Items that are already well-stocked (check the catalogue to see if copies are available, or if the subject is already well-covered by other titles)
- Items in poor condition, for example items with yellowing pages, musty or moldy books
- Large quantities of used items
Most books donated to the library never make it onto the shelves. You know that little cart of free books somewhere near the front door? This is where many donations end up.
Sometimes people donate mildewy books to the library. They get thrown out. No precious volumes are being saved this way. The people “donating” them are just creating more work for others, because they can’t bring themselves to get rid of their own books.
An April 13 SaltWire piece by Laura Churchill-Duke urges readers to “optimize” their home library. I do not love the language, but Churchill-Duke speaks to Angela Reynolds of the Annapolis Valley Regional Library, who offers solid advice. Reynolds recognizes that books are not like any other object:
“Some books have sentimental value, some were gifts, some just have that book smell that you cannot say goodbye to. When you find a treasure trove of books in your grandmother’s attic, you may look at each one and have a memory associated with them. That’s hard to part with,” she says.
Reynolds says moldy books can infect other books, so you really shouldn’t keep them unless there is a very compelling reason to. She also suggests asking yourself a few questions as you go through your books:
If books are in good condition, consider the following: Am I ever going to read this again? Can I get it at the library? Why do I want to keep this book?
Before moving to Nova Scotia, I went through our books and gave away or sold hundreds of them. These were exactly the questions I asked myself. When I was unpacking our books here, I re-evaluated again and immediately donated more of them. We don’t always get this right, of course. I’ve re-bought some books I regretted getting rid of it. And just because the library has something now, doesn’t mean it will continue to own it. Our house still has thousands of books. I am sitting in an office right now that has had piles of books on the floor for the last couple of years, and I’ve finally decided to do something about that.
Public and institutional libraries get it wrong sometimes too. That’s inevitable and sad, but not a reason to never get rid of any books.
Churchill-Drake says Reynolds says you shouldn’t feel bad about throwing away (at least some) books:
Overall, remember, it truly is OK to throw away books. Check your local recycling rules. For example, hardcovers can’t be recycled as is, you have to remove the board covers. If they are damaged, smelly, moldy, or have been wet, they really just need to go to the garbage or be recycled. This is the hardest thing for people to reconcile, she says.
After 25 years of being a librarian, Reynolds says she still has a hard time discarding some books. But it must be done, because there’s only so much room in our libraries, and there are always new books coming. Make it a habit — maybe even a rule — if there are new books coming in some must go out. But think — while you are going through your books, you get to spend time with them again, she says.
My dad’s books spent a couple of years at my sister’s before we had the emotional and logistical capacity to deal with them.
We set aside the ones we wanted to keep, then sorted the rest into three groups. An antiquarian bookseller came to see the first group. It turned out our father had been one of her regular clients. “I wondered why I hadn’t heard from him for awhile,” she said. She bought three boxes of books. Next, came the literary used bookstore owners. Finally, we carted dozens of boxes to a mass-marked second-hand bookstore. Then my sister held a sale, and then came the donations.
Just the other day, my brother dropped off one of the boxes of books we’d shipped to Nova Scotia. One of them was a first edition of a slim pamphlet written by Virginia Woolf. Nice find. I hadn’t noticed it before. I’m glad it didn’t accidentally get tossed.
We did find some treasures within the pages of some of these books (and, to be honest, a few things I could have done without coming across), but if we were to flip through the pages of every one of these books it would have become our life’s work.
Just as I finished writing this, a pile of stuff slid off the edge of my desk, including my copy of How To Make Extra Profits from Taxidermy. Not giving that one away.
I feel pretty much the same way about fake meats as I do about electric cars. Maybe helpful, but not enough. We need to rethink transport, not just shift people from gas-powered cars to electric ones, and we won’t save the planet by replacing meat with highly processed Impossible or Beyond Meat burgers. (I’ve tried both, they are fine, but I don’t get the hype.)
Disenchantment with an earlier generation of fake meats was one of the things that led me to start eating (a very moderate amount) of meat, after having given it up for 20 years. I was looking at these super-salty soy dogs, knowing soy is a terrible driver of deforestation, and thinking is this really better than eating some meat I can buy from a local farmer? Answer: No, it is not.
The environmental impact of livestock depends on many different factors, and Howard says claims that fake meats are better for the environment need to be seen in that context:
Firstly, the idea that these alternative proteins can save the planet is highly speculative. These claims are based on a narrow assessment of which products can deliver the most protein for the least CO2. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Products like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger source their ingredients from chemical-intensive (and therefore fossil fuel-intensive) monocultures and rely on heavy processing—all of which has major impacts on human health, biodiversity, and climate change.
More importantly, these “solutions” are going to get a disproportionate amount of attention because we like the shiny new thing, and because there is an enormous amount of money behind them.
The hype around alternative proteins also diverts our attention away from solutions that are already working on the ground: shifting to diversified agroecological production systems, strengthening territorial food chains and markets, and building “food environments” which increase access to healthy and sustainable diets. These pathways… entail transformative behavioral and structural shifts. They require sustainable food system transitions, not merely a protein transition. Yet without a consolidated set of claims and claim-makers behind them, these pathways are systematically sidelined.
Legislature sits (Friday, 1pm, Province House)
Coloniality and Racial (In)Justice in the University: Counting for Nothing? (Friday, 1pm) — online pre-conference book launch in advance of tomorrow’s 5th Annual Critical Indigenous, Race, and Feminist Studies Student Conference (CIRFS). Info and registration here.
5th Annual Critical Indigenous, Race, and Feminist Studies Student Conference (CIRFS) Theme: Race, Space and Environment (Saturday, 9:30am) — online event; from the listing:
After the success of the four previous CIRFS student conferences, the annual event returns with a focus this time on environmental and institutional racism / exclusion. Specifically, the conference will be a site for the examination, engagement, and interrogation of the multiple spaces / environments including the reproduction and contestation of (1) environmental racism / disasters (land, water, air, animals) (2) institutional racism/hostility (organizations, academia, and workplaces).
In the harbour
08:15: CMA CGM Brazil, container ship (149,314 tons), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
11:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
18:00: Silver Ray, car carrier, moves from Pier 9 to Autoport
21:30: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
Ever since I heard about the roller rink planned for Spryfield I’ve been listening to the “1970s roller rink” playlist on Spotify. Take me to Funkytown.