Slubberdegullion: Not a word that springs readily to mind when viewing pre-eviction portraits of Victoria’s Courthouse-Cathedral tent city and many of its residents, but one powerful enough to convey what the camera – or a personal walk-through – would confirm.
First used in the 1600’s the word springs from “slubber, to daub, smear, behave carelessly or negligently.” My Brewer’s Dictionary Phrase and Fable (Millennium edition) adds a few words to fill in the picture: “A base fellow; a nasty oaf. ‘To slubber’ is to do things carelessly in a slovenly way, and ‘degullion” is a fanciful addition ‘gullion’ perhaps being a variant of ‘cullion’- a base fellow.”
In recent weeks local newspapers have published many letters on Victoria’s tent-city. Most called for understanding and tolerant treatment for the less fortunate among us. Others warned that while some of the inhabitants were mentally ill, suffering from serious addictions or genuinely down on their luck and deserving of help, there were too many “slubberdegullions” among them to justify all-encompassing offers of safety-net benefits designed to help the unfortunate – not provide free food and lodging for those who “daub and smear” while demanding society feed and clothe them and provide a little cash for smokes, a bottle of wine and other more dangerous sources of false comfort.
We must be wise with our care because as letter-to-the-editor writer Rod Steibel wrote (March 2 Times-Colonist) “reality seems to be missing” among those demanding more. “Yes, many are thankful for the help….and decided to take advantage of our outstretched hand. I wish them the best of luck…On the other hand, if you (tent city occupiers) prefer to live outdoors, then off to the woods you go. Stop making our city a squalid mess.”
The same day Nancy Raycroft wrote: “I have been poor all my life, yet have never been homeless. Why? Because I took whatever menial work was made available to me…. because I have always put rent and food above beer and smokes…tattoos and travel….Bravo to those choosing to take the help being offered, let’s hope this will be a step toward a better life….But most of the campers, where do they get off thinking the rules don’t apply to them…?” She went on to wonder “who’s going to clean up that wretched mess on the land taken over by this group…..?
I ask the more pertinent questions: When will the authorities charged with protecting us against plague, pestilence and lawlessness exercise the powers they hold and paper the “residences” with “unfit for occupation” signs? When will public health officials step and condemn the site as the serious health hazard it quickly became after too many slubberdegullions moved in? We are told that a few days ago “about 20 people spent several hours cleaning up the tent city to counter the government’s view that the grounds constitute a health and safety risk. A lot of garbage was picked up and pathways cleared in case emergency service personnel have to carry someone on a stretcher.” The emphasis is mine.
To date there have been four stabbings, as many drug overdose calls, one fatal. It is not surprising that paths for stretcher bearers appear more essential in that abysmal landscape of tattered tarpaulin, ghastly constructed “shacks” and piles of garbage, than basic sanitation, common rules of hygiene and, most important, the rule of law as shaped by the majority.
In Seattle a once relatively small homeless camp is described in Saturday’s Globe and Mail as now “stitched three ragged miles along the underbelly of Interstate 5…if a fire broke out today, firefighters would not be allowed in without an armed escort.” A proposed solution now being considered in the Washington State Legislature calls for:”A razor wire fence separating (the site) from the city at a cost of one million dollars.”
“The jungle” as the zone is called is located on State owned land. City and State are “discussing – as are Victoria and out provincial government – what should be done and by whom. The latest reports on conditions in “the Jungle” cited “blight, misery and filth beyond anything imagined…heroin addiction, trafficking, depravity and sexual violence….” Should any contagious disease break out the razor wire will presumably be used to keep victims isolated inside the wire.
It couldn’t happen here? Of course not, we are far too civilized in Canada to be threatened, dragged down and held hostage by a handful of slubberdegullions? Aren’t we?