I live on the west coast, in a city that has the mildest weather of any city in Canada. We don’t get snow very often, and when we do, we are rarely prepared for it. I’m not talking about driving conditions. Hell no. See, this is an example of what pisses me off about the media, and the priorities of the dominant society in general. When a tanker carrying diesel crashes on the highway and spills 30,000 litres of fuel into the river, the concern is not for the salmon in that river, but for the traffic delays that the accident has caused. Along the same lines, when the weather drops below freezing and a big snow dumps on us, the media is filled with articles about what this does to driving conditions, not the fact that we still have hundreds of people out there on the street without homes.
I know what one of the problems is. Public perceptions of poverty are in drastic need of a shift into reality. Right now the dominant perception is mythical. The majority of people still seem to believe that people in poverty are lazy, and that they could solve their own poverty by just working harder. Over the years many book and reports have been written dispelling this myth, but to no avail. Recently in the US, those perceptions have started shifting, and not because people finally took the time to research and listen, but because the middle class has started slipping into poverty, and people are learning first-hand that poverty is not about laziness, but about some serious systemic problems with society.
I don’t want to be defeatest however. Knowing that a shift in perception is necessary to provoke widespread action on poverty, I’m still interested in helping bring about that shift. I’m just not sure yet how it’s going to happen when we have the media and the government working against us.
One of the biggest myths is that we don’t have ‘real’ poverty. Politicians and pundits will spout “But there are people in other countries living on less that $1/day. Even the poorest of us here have TVs, fridges and cars.” Or they will insist that the solution to poverty is economic growth, where the rich get rich and create jobs and wealth for everyone. The trickle-down effect this is called, and it’s been dispelled over and over. Just today in fact Oxfam release a report that claimed that some of the poorest people in the world are to be found in the G20 countries, and that economic growth has not been helping them. Unfortunately, the myth than economic growth is the solution to poverty is still the dominant ideology among these governments.
I’m grateful for the people who don’t buy into the myths, whose perceptions of poverty are grounded in reality, and who are taking action to create change. Last night here in town, several people I know were out handing out blankets and sleeping bags and clothing, and paying for coffee for people so they could hang out in a restaurant waiting for the shelters to open. These same people went over to the drop-in centre downtown and demanded it be opened. And it was.
These same people are poor themselves, and can afford to be out there buying coffees and handing out blankets less than anyone. These same people are a bit more hungry tonight, have less blankets on their own bed, less clothing in their closets, but time after time they are the most generous people I know. These same people have helped me with food and supprt when they could little afford it.
Those of you who live in this city probably know who Reverend Al Tysick. He used to be in charge of Our Place, the big downtown homeless drop-in. Recently he retired and started a new organization that provides outreach to the poorest of the poor on the street. Rev, Al knows as much about the local shelter system as anyone, and here’s what he had to say yesterday (full text here): “Victoria’s cold, wet-weather protocol is not working for the most vulnerable, sick and homeless.
As many know, I wake up the homeless in the core of our city every morning. On Wednesday morning, I found 51 men and women sleeping on our streets, many of them without even a blanket covering them.”
This is nothing new. All that is different today is the dip in temperature.
I drive myself crazy thinking, reading and writing about the issue of homelessness and poverty. I see all these reports, all these programs, all these non-profits and yet nothing seems to change. I see decadence all around me, I see denial, discrimination, and lies, lies, lies about what poverty is and what it means. The sadness and frustration is overwhelming. I feel I am spinning my wheels. I want so desperately to see things change. I want so desperately for so many people to not be suffering so needlessly. And yet I am so powerless. I am in a constant struggle to find food, shelter and other necessities. I have nothing to give.
I’ve been doing a lot of research (and writing a book) on the various solutions that are being proposed for poverty. This endevour has just been making me more cynical, pessimistic and depressed. Poverty is so deeply ingrained that it truly does seem that it will continue like this and get worse the longer we remain under this capitalist system. But how do we get out? What do we do to make the deep systemic changes that will make poverty a thing of the past?
I’d like to see these conversations happening. At the same time I’d like to see more food out there, mnore shelter (not homeless shelters or mats, but real shelter, real rooms). I’d like to see us get things to people who need them
How can we coordinate an effective response that will provide the band-aids to the crisis and contribute to the systemic change that needs to happen? I’d like to be a part of that coordination. I’d like to see us work together to make a big splash, to do something historic. I need to. The frustration is killing me.
How can I communicate the dire need to take poverty seriously? I’m not saying everyone should be angry and depressed like me. We need to be happy, have fun, hobbies, etc, but there is a crisis happening, and shopping and consuming like nothing is happening is…well, I’m not here to insult anyone. Let’s say it truly saddens me. Please. Let’s talk about some real action before I completely lose my mind.