Several of you have been asking me for my thoughts about the death of Harley Lawrence and the plight of homelessness in the Annapolis Valley. I have been reluctant to do so because I no longer live there. I am only aware of things that happened when I lived there and the odd thing I may have seen or heard about in the decades since. I am not sure if this anecdotal information, hearsay really, is worth a blog post. But I will give it a try.
There are huge pockets of poverty in the Annapolis Valley. The idyllic countryside paints a picture of bucolic splendour; but it covers ugly, festering sores that are all about the very opposite.
There is also old money there: families that have been wealthy for hundreds of years in some cases. Just study the history of the New England Planters who took over the space "vacated" by the Acadians when they were evicted starting in 1755. Call it what it was: ethnic cleansing. But the Planters were granted large tracts of land, and in many cases, this land or parts of it remain in these families to the present day.
There are many poor people in the Valley as well. We were not rich growing up. We had it pretty good compared to other people I knew, and other people I heard about. The Goler family is a symbol for not just the incestuous nature of some of its branches, but for the abject poverty in which they lived. I can take you for a drive through parts of the Valley and show you areas where some extremely poor people exist, grinding out very modest livings. One fellow for many years lived in the cab of his truck (and may still do so). A second fellow lived in a house; when it suffered a major fire, he continued to live there for years despite its condition. Yet another one of those people is a former family friend who grew up in a tiny house down the road from us, and run by a single mother. One by one, he and his siblings got out and did something with themselves. This former friend is now a director in the Nova Scotia provincial government making a salary I can only dream about, and I will not go any further to identify him, so don't ask me to.
But as hard as he had it, there were others who had it even worse. In my father's day, people would take whatever damned job they could to make a few dollars to put food on the table; today, many of these crappy jobs still exist, but very few locals are willing to take them on because they are unattractive jobs that require a great deal of effort to perform and only reward those who are able to do a lot of work in a short period of time; it's called piece work in case you were wondering. But some locals do perform this kind of work. Most of these folks are poorly educated, unsophisticated people who do not even dare aspire to anything beyond the mundane jobs they do now, so beaten down are they by their life and circumstances. In a real sense, they are the lucky ones.
However, many poor people are burdened by physical and/or mental issues that preclude them from taking on that kind of work, and can only eke out a meagre existence, living what is called lives of quiet desperation, knowing that their lot can't and won't get better, and do not even try to do so. They flit from menial job to menial job if they can find anything at all. Some of them end up living with a relative whom they must hope will live forever.
Poverty is nothing new in the Annapolis Valley. It existed when I was a child. It existed as I grew up. It has existed since I left. I suspect it has even flourished in recent years as more and more of the factory jobs have evaporated, and the people who occupied those positions would be in a poor position to take on any gig that replaced it, such as working in a call centre.
What happened with Harley Lawrence is a tragedy. Nobody should have to live the way he did, and surely nobody should have to die the way he did. The problem of poverty in rural parts of the province is just as acute but more difficult to fix than it is in the city because of the relative abundance of social programs here that don't and can't exist there. It is a huge problem, with no easy solutions.
I hereby offer this blog as a forum for anybody who wishes to discuss the problems of homelessness and poverty in the Annapolis Valley. Leave a comment on the blog, or on my Facebook, or as a comment to me on twitter.
Have a good evening. Keep warm. And I'll see you tomorrow.