Peel away all the layers of “how” and you get what it really means – and feels like – to live in poverty.
Loneliness, shame, alienation and hopelessness.
Ann Godderis still wells up as she recalls the raw emotion attached to feelings of isolation that 60+ low income locals – 38 men and 25 women – expressed during a meeting in Trail last week.
“It was the emotional content of the day that really affected me,” said Godderis, an event organizer. “There was no ‘blaming’ anybody, it was just how they felt. That sense of shame, guilt and of being cut out, not included.”
The session was part of a large scale initiative that has communities across B.C. using a formal setting to gather local experiences of poverty as well as potential solutions. Those outcomes will help develop the province’s first Poverty Reduction Plan.
As part of the planning process, which began last October, communities have been encouraged to use their agenda to shape recommendations for the province.
For example, Nelson’s formal meeting emphasized guaranteed income and was more for service providers and community outreach workers.
Organizers for the Trail meeting used a different approach. They made a deliberate effort to encourage individuals with real-life experience to attend rather than circulating information to the general public or specific sectors of the community.
“The rationale was that the latter had the resources to travel to attend the formal SPARC (Social Planning and Research Council) organized meeting in Nelson,” Godderis explained. “We wanted to make sure that the voices and experience of those living on low incomes were both heard and recorded.”
Led by Jan Morton from the provincial advisory committee, participants were asked two questions. The first query focused on present challenges, and the second, on action or actions that could help lift them out of poverty.
“As the person who transcribed all the written notes, I was very, very moved by much that was said,” Godderis shared. “And I was also very pleased by the level of interest, honesty and excitement in the room, despite the sad stories and situations that were being described. You could feel the good energy, and that they were really appreciative of being listened to.”
The emotion was unexpected, but the issues and barriers raised by Trail attendees came as no surprise.
Lack of access to affordable and safe housing, the cost of child care for low income families, a disconnect with health care and little money for food topped the list of challenges.
“All of which are connected to a lack of adequate income be it in the form of social assistance or wages,” explained Godderis. “What was very apparent, was the profound sense of isolation, shame, stigma, loneliness and emotional trauma experienced by many participants.”
As far as outcomes, both the men and women agreed a walk-in centre would be an integral solution. A community hub was viewed as a critical way to connect with service workers, access resources, and, importantly, to socialize with peers.
“That was a local recommendation,” said Godderis. “We are not in the position to do that right now, but we are keeping ears to the ground in terms of what might be possible if the funding came up – that’s something we would like to work at.”
Policy changes that encourage social and economic inclusion and solutions such as increased social assistance rates and a higher minimum wage, must come from the provincial level, Godderis added.
“But they (participants) really appreciated the fact that we literally wrote every word down, there’s careful transcription of what they had to say,” she said.
“So there was that sense of contradiction, between feeling really bad and having a sense of hope. And they trusted us to send it all in.”
In the meantime, there is movement on the local front.
Those first steps include the development of a training program for front line workers to help people in poverty access needed resources. The plan is to grow the program to eventually train interested community members as well as those living in poverty themselves.
Another local solution underway is the community kitchen program. The goal is to initiate kitchen programs from Rossland to the Beaver Valley which will encourage low income persons to come together to cook, share a meal and develop connections.