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The Home Front

Tent city in Vancouver 2003

It is of course abundantly obvious, that the much vaunted ‘market mechanism’ of late capitalism can’t or won’t provide even basic shelter for many living in our urban areas, regardless of the supposed employment rate or the “health of the economy.” I only need think back to 30 or so years ago, to when I was a kid growing up near Toronto. Visible homelessness then was more or less limited to a narrow demographic consisting of elderly substance-abusing men. Last time I visited Toronto, I saw entire families with children camped out over the hot air grates of the ultimate *cold city.* Vancouver is no better and tent cities have sprung up all over. The new economic brutalism is marginalizing an ever increasing portion of our population and there seems to be very little resolve by governments to do anything about it. In fact, visible homelessness has become a great tool for scaring the working poor into compliance with the Walmart economy. A case in point is British Columbia’s recent decision to cut 80,000 people off of the welfare roles by 2004, which the CBC predicts will result in 6,000 to 8,000 more people on the streets.
Let’s face it. It’s not impossible for most of us to imagine being homeless. What – with a bit of bad luck, and without a support network of family and friends, it might be closer than you think!
So, what to do? How can housing be constructed cheaply enough so that it can be *owned* by the rapidly increasing segment of our population that constitutes the *domestic third world*.
There has been some interesting thinking about this problem among architects lately, and a group working in Tokyo has come up with a very cool modular dwelling made completely out of polycarbonate plastic i.e, the cheap corrugated stuff that (ironically) real estate signs are often made of. While they quote a price of 350.000 yen (about $4300 CAN) to build one, I am sure it could be done much more cheaply in North America, as the Japanese prices for materials tend to be high. For less money than it costs for the government to subsidize slum landlords, the homeless could be given the materials and instructions on how to build these houses and be offered a safe place put them. What a radical idea! Home ownership for the homeless! These plastic houses can be built with just a box cutter, a saw and a screwdriver *and* they are completely portable.
Of course you need to be able to cook. Last summer, a student of mine, (A.K.A. Windy Day), showed me how to construct these lovely and highly efficient little rocket stoves out of discarded tin cans. The larger model burns sticks and pieces of paper extremely efficiently, and it is possible to boil water quickly with a minimum use of fuel. The smaller “pocket rocket” is made out of the bottom of a tomato paste can, jammed inside an aluminum beer can, which is crimped over and has tiny holes poked through it with a pin (see pictures). This little stove burns methyl hydrate (a common solvent) and can heat water in just a few minutes. The whole thing can fit in coat pocket:

“rocket” stove (burns sticks and scrap paper)

“pocket rocket” (burns methyl hydrate)

If your stuck in an economic refugee camp, why not start your own pirate FM radio station? Tetsuo Kogawa shows you how to build a neat little low power pirate transmitter for just a few dollars. I built one some years ago and it is so-o-o fun! The transmissions can be picked up on any conventional FM radio, (car, clock radio, whatever) and the range seems to be about 2 km. *Networks* of these little transmitters can be created, by connecting the earphone ‘out’ signal of a receiver (tuned to the pirate station), to the audio input of another pirate transmitter – thereby increasing the range indefinitely. This has classic bootstrapping potential !
“L’anarchie ! . . . .

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