#Shiftdisturbing on a Friday Night

A diverse group of people with mad skills decide to gang up on the conditions that make a city unliveable

Chief Janice George opens #shiftdisturbers. Photo: Johnathon Vaughn Strebly

Chief Janice George, dressed in her own beautifully woven regalia, looks over the train tracks of Gastown to her home on the North Shore. This is the traditional territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) People. Chief George tells us about the night the Vancouver of 1886 went up in flames. Her ancestors, both men and women, jumped in canoes and paddled what is not a small distance to rescue anyone they could. She then tells us of the repatriation of her ancestors remains that were estimated to be over 4,000 years old. Her people escorted them through Stanley Park to show them what had become of their place. That same night in 2006 a massive windstorm tore through the park — a natural rejeuvenation and cleansing.

This was how the first meeting of Vancouver’s #shiftdisturbers was opened. A welcoming from someone with the status of Hereditary Chief of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh People speaks to the significance of the meeting.

A rejuvenation and cleansing of Vancouver, and likely beyond, is coming via a wave of energy and talent, encouraged by organizations like Eventbrite, who generously hosted this fired up rabble, and volunteered to do so again.

One of six huddle rooms in the fast-paced meeting that began the formation of bonds to make change. Photo: Johnathon Vaughn Strebly

Expertly facilitated by Johnathon Vaughn Strebly, this group of roughly 130 designers, artists, VCs, photographers, coders, business people and academics crunched in themed rooms to find ways of supporting each other in a network to supercharge social change in Vancouver.

Somehow, we’re able to convince ourselves that these are less than bona fide human beings.

My skin in this game is our social stigma with homelessness. Why is it that we fear/shun/stigmatize those caught circling the drain of poverty? I get it. Our modern world is built around building our own unique, perfect identity. We don’t want to be around anyone who appears to be not from our tribe. Homeless people aren’t like “us”. We spin a demonizing narrative that says that they are dangerous or, at the very least, diseased, dirty and likely to prey on us, so that we can look the other way when we encounter them. Or, if we’re feeling particularly nasty, spit on them, call them names or accuse them of laziness. Somehow, we’re able to convince ourselves that these are less than bona fide human beings. We are unable to see them as peoples’ mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons — just like we are.

We’ll never solve homelessness with hate. That much I know. I live in a suburb of Vancouver where the mayor and Council and many residents want anyone who is homeless, addicted or mentally ill gone. Now. End of story. When did we become so cold? Could we shift that anger at the existence of these people that we view as “others” to an anger that our government — in our wealthy, western society — is not motivated to make housing affordable and treat mental health and addiction as the illnesses that they are? Poverty is not a crime. And we spend much more on policing, hospitalizing and incarcerating marginalized people than we would by simply lifting them up physically and psychologically, and allowing them to participate in our society. What would happen if, instead of ignoring them, we decided we’d have their backs?

Belonging means more than just being seen. Belonging means being able to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures. Belonging means the right to contribute and make demands upon society and its institutions.

— john a. powell, Othering and Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley

Young environmental sentinel Greta Thunberg (and I’m paraphrasing here) told an audience that it’s great that they want change, but are they willing to change to make that change happen? The Canadian government is there to serve all Canadians. Could we — en masse— demand that our government take care of our disenfranchised and make sure they are recognized fully as Canadians, with the same respect and access to agency that the rest of us enjoy.

The reality is that many of us could be made a part of this disenfranchised group as housing costs and climate change erode the ground beneath us.

And so, I look to my new tribe of #shiftdisturbers to help me and others find ways to humanize the homeless with the goal of never, ever calling anyone “the homeless” again.



WIK*D Design Thinking for Social Change

My name is Casey Hrynkow. I am a design strategist, co-creation facilitator and teacher. Blog at http://bit.ly/2nGFo2u