Squeegee Kids and Capitalism

There’s a young man wearing a red bandana with a squeegee inserted like a sheathed-sword into the back of his black hoodie. He’s sitting on a concrete planter, 9th and Jasper, waiting.

Red light. With a momentary survey he chooses, makes a dash for a black Sunbird. Running through two lanes of waiting traffic he lunges into his work. Bending the whole of his upper body over the hood he wets and swipes a half dozen times and he’s done. The driver takes his time. Squeegee collects but can’t get to another car before the light changes.

The first time I was squeegeed I was waiting for a green on Douglas in downtown Victoria, B.C. I hadn’t seen him coming. Next thing I’m staring through my windshield at a grinning, maniacal, patchy-bearded kid who in an instant becomes blurry and wet and then clear again. Quick as that, he’s at my side window. Regaining myself, I fish and find some coins and he’s gone. I drive away amazed at the speed and relatively good job done on the glass.

Five or six years ago Ontario decided "squeegee kids" were an epidemic and outlawed them with their "Safe Streets Act". In 2003 Vancouver floated similar legislation but it failed to pass. In Edmonton we handle our "squeegee problem" differently. We give them tickets, jaywalking, mischief, etc.

Of course the squeegeers have often been their own worst enemy. Over-congregating, over-aggressive and so on. But then our solution to their "overly" is always our own form of over-reaction.

We might want to view our knee-jerk in light of a report by Prof. O’Grady, from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph. At the time of the Ontario legislation, O’Grady surveyed more than 100 squeegee kids in Toronto. He found that they are less likely to use drugs and commit crimes. Less likely to sell drugs, break into cars or buildings, shoplift or engage in violent behavior than other street kids. They also have a better mental outlook than other street youth whereas non-squeegee street youth reported considerably higher levels of depression.

Street Mission workers know about this. Any kind of creative and productive activity engenders a sense of self and a sense of self-value. And this can only contribute to a healthier outlook. That’s also why at the Mission I work for, we are moving toward giving those we serve and care for more opportunities to give back; especially to those who are in our addiction programs.

Now, regarding the "squeegee kid" I saw this morning, just because he doesn’t fit our style of capitalism doesn’t mean we should outlaw him. Perhaps in fact, the presence of this "squeegee kid" shows the poverty of our Capitalism.

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