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Column: Where Have All the Squeegee Punks Gone?

 Street Sheet (USA) 18 April 2019

The answer is simple. They were outlawed. Just about every major city in our nation went to great length to pass laws targeting these citizens. Over the years I've kept in touch with several I interviewed in Winnipeg in the 90s. (667 Words) - By Rodney Graham

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StreetSheet_The story of Canadas squeegee punks

 Photo: Rodney Graham

One couple have two kids now and are close friends - and I visit them in B.C. every year.  Many others have kids of their own now and are doing just fine.  In a way these rebels were soldiers of democracy whether they did so purposefully or not.  

In the 1990s there were hundreds, if not thousands of traveling kids washing car windows at intersections all across Canada.  They were as ubiquitous at major intersections as the Dickie Dee ice cream carts on a hazy city summers day.

People still do it, but they are more likely to be locals who have learned the practice over the years from the pioneering punks.  Traveling kids still do it while in transit - Until they are ticketed and hounded out of town.

Why did they do it?  Simple again - Lack of resources for youth.  Especially for youth who are termed 'fallen through the cracks'.  But I would say that there was never a firm foundation to help abused and neglected youth in Canada anyway.  The Industry is more like a spiralling route that descends towards your eventual exit.  Then you were no longer a 'client'.  Having been a homeless youth myself thirty five years ago I had a hell of a time in the system.  Panhandling, couch surfing, begging off relatives, and being processed through the revolving doors of the children's aid system then spit out at the age of 16.

One may ask, 'Where do gangs come from?'  When society rejects you - you create your own.  The squeegee kids were often kids who were mostly abused and neglected kids and they created their own resource.    Societies answer for both was and still is equally brutal.  Instead of treating them with respect and equality it uses the heartless force of law and the mindless self serving system in place to force them into more desperation and poverty.

The irony of   it is that even though these resourceful Canadian kids used this form of self employment and were criminalized for it - they benefited others in each town and city they went to and were kicked out of. 

They've done more to improve the democracy in our nation than most of us ever will.  Local people of all ages across Canada now go out and squeegee for spare change - Because they saw the squeegee  punks do it.  There are a few more resources as a result (But still not enough) front line resources for homeless youth.  There's one in Winnipeg where kids can seek resources for jobs and use computers and phones.  They stirred up activists and got them talking about the issues of youth homelessness.  In this way, in my opinion anyway... they were true soldiers of democracy. 

Personally, I have written, debated, and battled about the issue of youth homelessness since they passed the very first anti-squeegee kid by-law in Canada here in Winnipeg in 1997.  The solution may not come soon.  First we have to strive towards building a culture where less fortunate youth, and the less fortunate of every age are treated equally.  We can start by repealing the squeegee kid by-law and the ubiquitous panhandling by-laws in Canada today.

In the long-term, cities continual ruthlessness against the less fortunate costs...  In regards to lives, finances - in every area...  They should overhaul the entire 'system' that deals with these things    It's ironic that these vagabonds share a few things in common with the hippies of old...

Yes, it's ironic that these citizens have contributed so much to our country - yet they are treated like outlaws.  Perhaps that's just the way things work in our rather complex world...

- When will we ever learn?

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