by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
Summary of The Start of the Discussion
A “short series” is underway, tackling blocks to transforming harmful aspects of poverty. The particular focus last week was poverty and homelessness: (a) the fact that poverty remains a behind the scenes reality for much of this society; [John’s Comment was perfect, when he spoke of being baffled by, “How we can be so indifferent to a growing segment of our population who experience more hardship in one night than many of us experience in a year] and (b) the need among shelter users for various forms of support beyond just shelter, and for calm friendly connection with others [see Joy’s Dec 12th article, You Ask Questions, You Get Answers, identifying the value of sitting side by side with guests at the Wednesday Night Suppers – both to step over the class divide and for the personal connection].
The main points that can be carried forward:
(1) We can (must) try to keep poverty on the agenda (all sorts of agendas…)
(2) People in need are the same as the rest of us, requiring connection to others, both one-to-one and societal.
Not to forget – Other People Caught in the Housing Crisis
Diana, in her Comment, pointed out that she had been severely under-housed but didn’t ever have to use the formal or informal shelter system. Indeed, there are a variety of forms of inadequate housing.
Some families have a roof over their heads but inadequate heating, dryness, electrical safety or space. Many have to move regularly because they don’t have enough money for the rent and run up arrears. Large numbers are camping out in untenable situations: sleeping on a friend’s couch, occupying a basement area that wasn’t designed as living space, or living with people who pose a risk to their security (heavy drug users, among others).
There are solutions that have worked in the past, that are working in other countries, that are being dreamed up. It’s not the know-how; it’s the will to make it happen — the shared conviction among voters that this matters. That is a huge block that has somehow grown larger since the start of the Harris years. It’s as if the public has heard enough.
So back to Point No.1 above – can we keep this on the agenda, in clever and interesting ways?
The costs of not doing anything
Not news, but should be mentioned. Is the voting public really aware of the cost – financial – of letting this all continue? For people living on the street:
- Physical health deteriorates by the year, if not the month. Cancer and heart problems often have hit-and-miss attention. Drop-in clinics help but sustained care is hard to access when you’re walking everywhere. Diabetes, treated haphazardly, speeds along foot problems that lead to premature losing of limbs. Examples abound.
- Severe mental stress exacerbates blood pressure and heart problems and aggrevates any tendancy to mental illness.
- Personality disorders, such as poor anger management and erratic behavior, are aggrevated by living on the street or in shelters.
- Even for those who remain relatively healthy, the increasing distance from habits and routines that support a confident attractive appearance undermine the likelihood of being hired.
- Finding, among the various communities of street people, one that fits may not be easy. The subsequent boredom and loneliness, as one former English professor told me, has a dulling effect. The lack-of-connection factor can undermine emotional health and behaviour.
Would it cost more to address these facts at the source than to ignore them and let the problems escalate to serious illness needing sustained medical attention? Lots of studies are available that give us the answers – prevention costs less than treatment. Supportive housing would cost less than hospital beds and jail cells.
We Know All This, So Here’s A Summary of What I Think We Can Do
Here’ my theory. The better we understand the experience of poverty, and our own reactions to it, the better we can be clear-sighted.
Reduce sentimentality. Reduce judgment. If trying to chip at the blocks to genuine help, aim at getting to a balanced view.
At some point, it won’t be painless. There’s some fear in shifting position. Crossing our personal learned class-division block may take some courage. It’s so easy to get it wrong and look foolish. Also hard to stand up to anti-poverty activists who have an entrenched position one disagrees with.
Appreciate the role of psychology – your own.
Psychology – not just talking heads
Better understanding of human behaviour can really help. For instance, expecting gratitude from people receiving assistance doesn’t fit the truth of the human condition. When we’ve lost our sense of being effective, anger and shame are just below the surface, if covered up at all. There is a well of resentment toward the financially-comfortable who share the streets of the City. Eventually true friendliness can be exchanged, but it takes time for any kind of trust to be earned and built. The slightest hint of patronizing behavior, of the ‘giver’ thinking she knows what the ‘receiver’ is experiencing, can act as a match to tinder.
And yet I’m advising trying to understand the experience of the Other! Yet not so that we can think we really get it. Just so that we can be a little more humble, shed a few assumptions, and move a little closer to being able to make a human connection.
Psychology, our own, also teaches us about what we share in being persons. Contentment, pain, emptiness, enjoyment, a need to belong somewhere, are common to most humans. Many disagree, but I absolutely believe that the personal is a way of knowing, a way of being. We have to operate with facts as a guide, but part of the factual world is that people are always experiencing (even if not paying attention to their experience). Having some understanding of what situations bring about what feelings and thoughts can help a lot in directing one’s behaviour in appropriate and useful ways toward transformations. More about this in future weeks.
If you have any responses, please write them. There are so many ways to look at these things.