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Letter: Poverty is defined every day in our society

Homelessness.
Poverty is certainly evident in our cities. — File photo

I attended a very well-intentioned, executed and timely public forum on poverty in Newfoundland and Labrador, held at St. John’s City Hall on Nov. 25th, hosted by the Religious Social Action Coalition of N.L., to whom I extend my sincere thanks for the forum and a most delicious, home-cooked, Indian-food lunch.

The forum started with an excellent presentation by a retired Memorial University history professor on how things are changing in N.L., how the gap between rich and poor widening and is expected to only get worse.

I would argue that many of the single men and women, in particular those over the age of 50, if they are on provincial income support are there now for very good reasons and may be there until they are in receipt of Old Age Security.

As your readers know, under the Danny Williams government there was a unique and very successful poverty reduction program which assisted many to go back to school to become more employable and helped many get employed.

I would argue that many of the single men and women, in particular those over the age of 50, if they are on provincial income support are there now for very good reasons and may be there until they are in receipt of Old Age Security. I have volunteered at the Gathering Place and worked at the New Hope Community Centre. In my professional opinion of over 30 years in health care, primarily mental health care, those (mostly) men that I met have struggled with mental illness, diagnosed and not, and often have a concurrent disorder involving misuse and abuse of alcohol, often for decades. The latter may have started out as symptom relief from mental illness.

The provincial spokesperson for the government’s current poverty reduction program spent a ridiculous amount of time telling the audience how difficult it is to measure and define poverty.

As I said at the forum — with huge annoyance apparent in my voice — people have been “defining poverty” for decades. I wrote social work papers in the 1970s on the topic. My advice to the provincial spokesperson was simply to go to the Gathering Place, the local epi-centre of poverty and its soul-crushing effect on people, and you won’t need to define it.

What that provincial spokesperson, as director of poverty reduction must do, is advocate internally for those who must use such services as income support, who are already below any poverty line, defined and not, by virtue of being in receipt of provincial income support, and get those folks an extra $200 a month. Then those suffering in illness and poverty could get a bus pass, eat better, dress better and maybe then feel better. Yes, some will drink a bit more; you might drink, too, if you had to live below any recognized poverty line.

Further, in the audience, the NDP MHA who oversaw the all-party committee on mental illness in the province, wherein the related report several times made reference to how hard life is with chronic mental illness made worse by the hardships of poverty, yet the NDP member made no recommendation to increase provincial income support. Again, another privileged person ignoring the effects of poverty on those already suffering way too much.

These forums, though very well-intentioned, are made absurd when the local privileged don’t deem to do, in their extremely well-paid jobs, what needs to be done, but show up or speak at such forums.

 

Geoff Chaulk

St. John’s

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