My work bike was swiped early on in the mass bicycle theft wave that has swept over town in the past few years. I didn’t have a sentimental attachment to it yet I still had that sinking feeling you get at the moment you look at the space where it used to be. It’s a violation. The scenario was identical to that of Ricci in the 1948 classic Italian film The Bicycle Thieves; I set the thing down for a minute to fetch something for a job and then it was gone. Six months later our shop was robbed in a weekend heist that netted power tools, my mobile and laptop, another bicycle and a beautiful set of lightweight bolt cutters that have probably been used in many a heist since. If your idea of security is a chintzy cable lock then you might as well leave the damn thing unlocked. And if you do leave it unlocked, it’s as good as gone.
Campus is an open buffet for these scammers, so much so I’ve called in at least six different dudes taking bikes in the middle of the day. They try really hard to pass for students but no student walks past all of the racks eyeing up the potential merch then doubles back around to do it again. They don’t give a shit and I don’t either. If you do this and we see you, the campus police are coming for a chat. Count yourself lucky that I’m not allowed to directly intervene.
I don’t see them as “cockroaches” though, as somebody at the Ward 2 Townhall put it last week. The assorted daylight robbers I see over and over are always male, white, 5’6” to 5’11” carrying a heavy duffle bag instead of a backpack, emaciated and definitely strung out. There are exceptions to this, such as the King Of The Bicycle Thieves who you will see slugging a different set of wheels around town on any given day. He’s usually not riding it as he seems to have some kind of back trouble. A spine like that would definitely need some kind of treatment and since opioids are prescribed like candy, I strongly suspect The King has a habit to feed. He would also need existence money as disability benefits are paltry. And he unequivocally does not give a f___. Your bike will fill the void for a while.
We aren’t quite at the austerity levels of post war Italy but our current gentrification wave has it’s share of casualties. All rents are up, nothing is affordable and if you have an addiction as well, the money has to come from somewhere. The thefts are brazen because the thieves aren’t actually capable of caring about it. Pain is pain be it physical, psychological or a continuous hunger pang. We all know that feeling and there is a moment when you are willing to do anything to make it go away.
Guelph also has one of the largest addiction and mental health treatment facilities in the nation. Conveniently located across from Guelph General, Homewood’s claim to fame is that they have treated countless famous people over the years who pay big bucks to come here from all over to clean up. It’s a for profit operation grandfathered into our socialized medicine system but public money is injected into it, public private partnership style. 80,000 patient days of services on contract from OHIP to be exact. That is the care for the rest of us not on a Hollywood salary. You have to shell out for any upgrades to the base level.
The Schlegel company paid $129 million for Homewood in 2010. An investment like that is only sunk into a place if you are expecting a good return on it. Homewood is always held up as an example of a P3 success story but if it was as great as advertised, this town should have far less dudes that need to steal bikes to maintain the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.
So beyond town hall meetings, what can be done? Community supports have expanded but not without controversy. People still are wary of safe injection sites and the Community Health Van but these are very necessary parts of addressing the problem in the short term. Legal marijuana should also help as two studies have suggested that in places where weed is legal, opioid use drops. If we start to get a “law and order” campaign from the new government(s), coupled with the demonization of those on benefits and the “finding of efficiencies” it is going to get worse. Locking them up just creates a pile of locked up addicts.
Until the deeper root causes are addressed such as economic disparity, a lack of affordable housing and the misapplication of pharmaceuticals by those quick to the prescription pad continues, your bike and anything portable of value is a target. Police insist that thieves are generally lazy but if someone is busting into your shed and rooting through it for the primo stuff, that’s a bit more savvy than snagging a bike left sitting out by gli stupidi like Ricci and I. You need to lock your bike to the snow tires and even then it might not be enough. But don’t leave the damn thing lying out like you’re out in the country. Big city aspirations lead to big league problems. Welcome to the club, Royal City.
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