Single Lazy Unemployed Guys, the SLUGS of the inner city, are the main cause of crime and social dislocation. As we have worked on crime suppression in Point Douglas, certain themes began to emerge.
One was the huge number of healthy young men who do not work or go to school. At any time of day or night you see these guys walking, riding their bikes or chatting, as if being unemployed was normal, which is not the Point Douglas norm.
One of our outreach workers, who had always worked herself but most of her friends did not, was given the job of delivering "welcome cart" packages to people moving into Point Douglas. She discovered that no one was home during the day at most of the homes she visited. "I had no idea so many people worked," she said.
As we moved in on more and more crack houses, we discovered another phenomenon: Couch surfers, young men who moved in on families, mothers, girlfriends, cousins and lived off the income of the woman. Many of the younger crack dealers did pretty well. No rent, food provided, sleep in, and a good income from selling crack.
It was very difficult for the woman whose home was invaded to get rid of this big, strong, young man, who not only lived off them, he set a horrible role model for any kids in the home.
As our anti-crack campaign became a little more sophisticated and we started getting calls from some of the women who were hosting couch surfers, we developed a new strategy. Landlord-driven evictions.
We discovered that most landlords wanted to co-operate with getting the SLUGS out of their rental units. We found by calling the landlord and letting him know he had a couch surfer, who wasn't on the lease, the landlord could and would act.
Shortly after the landlord told the official tenant that the SLUG had to leave we would see this forlorn young man, in his latest hoodie and shoes, walking down the street carrying his life belongings in a green garbage bag.
While most good landlords co-operated, unfortunately Manitoba Housing, one of the biggest landlords, is very slow to help, while Kinew Housing was one of the quickest.
But what to do about SLUGS?
Literally, crime and social dislocation cannot be conquered as long as you have a substantial group who do not contribute to society or to themselves. They make up the recruiting pool for gangs, they intimidate others, they are undermining those who are trying to improve themselves and they are the dominant role model for inner-city kids with their bling and fancy hoodies.
Our thoughts on what to do include a public education campaign similar to Participaction. Let's make fun of the SLUGS, call them what they are.
I can see an ad saying: Selfish, lazy, unemployed, guy; what a loser! Could have been an electrician, now he's a jail bird. We need to do to SLUGS what we did to drunk drivers. Make it unacceptable behaviour.
Our welfare inspectors need to move more quickly when a man is sponging off a woman on assistance. Men need to know they are expected to work for a living. Welfare rates are low enough for a family without feeding a SLUG.
Many SLUGS end up in jail or on probation. Often the probation order includes "must go to work or to school." This clause should be enforced. As long as a SLUG continues to not work, he will likely end up back in jail.
In the end it will be the community the SLUGS live in that decides whether SLUGGISM is acceptable. Neighbours, relatives, friends need to start laughing at them, calling them lazy and other negative terms.
Throwing them in jail will not work. My neighbour, the original SLUG, has been to jail and hasn't changed his behaviour at all.
Very few social services are available to young men. Some 90 per cent of criminals are men; they cause most of the social problems and cost the taxpayer a fortune.
These men are also a lost resource; they could be working, studying and contributing. Just because they are SLUGS doesn't mean they aren't smart and capable. They have found a nice system that works for them. It is our job to jostle, push, annoy until the role of a SLUG is no longer comfortable.
If we want to stop being a high crime city we will have to do something positive with the SLUGS.
Sel Burrows is Point Douglas activist.