At the Food Not Bombs dinner last night the group’s founder and long-time organizer Keith McHenry spoke of the challenges sharing free food with the hungry. Powerful corporate interests don’t like to be shamed by juxtaposing their wealth with poverty next door; politicians must hide proof of their failed social and economic policies. So the cops are sent in to break it up, arrest volunteers, keep hungry people away from healthy food until it is trampled under-boot.
The pretexts are lack of permits, unhealthy food, creating a disturbance, but the root issue is active denial that poverty is a real and growing problem despite decades of economic “growth”. Well-paid airheads of corporate-owned media opine that the poor aren’t really poor, because many of them own a refrigerator, microwave, TV or cell phone, miracle devices even a king could not obtain 150 years ago! Yet an old appliance won’t keep you fed or pay the rent, cover its own electric bill, treat a chronic illness.
Too often the denial machine is successful, hiding how tough things really are for many in our own communities. Canada is lucky to not have as many examples of a violent government response to poverty, but I still encounter denial of the problems. Some assert that people are homeless by choice, or that most on welfare just don’t want to earn a living.
If you nod your head at either of those ideas, you owe it to yourself to come down to Barrie’s City Hall Rotunda on Monday, November 18th for a reality check. From 11 AM to 6 PM, the Barrie Chapter of the Alliance to End Homelessness is hosting “A Day in a Life” to open your eyes, and heart. Interactive displays will be anchored by a full-scale mock-up of a ten-by-ten “furnished” room from a shelter or rooming house. Learn about links between poverty and poor health, struggles to afford a healthy diet, challenges of finding and maintaining decent housing.
Obstacles are many. Physical or mental health problems or addictions can be a huge burden turning everyday situations into trials. Unexpected events or “detours” can shake someone from a comfortable life into a downward spiral. A simple lack of income is stress enough to trigger a raft of difficult choices, few if any of them leading to a decent and secure lifestyle.
This struggle exists right here in Barrie. If you think the solution is just to pull yourself up and make the best of it, then come to the display and show us how! At the income booth you’ll be issued the money someone on disability, welfare, or minimum wage receives, then make your way around the other stations to obtain food, transportation, clothing, health, and other basic needs and try to still have enough at the end to rent the 10x10 room.
Job statistics in Barrie show improvement, but many are still a long way from economic security. There’s plenty of temporary work, but we don’t have temporary rents or temporary mortgages. Minimum wage doesn’t cover even a minimum healthy life; even less so on part-time hours, or if trying to support a family.
Together we can build solutions, but first we must acknowledge and understand the problems. Are you brave enough to spend “A Day in a Life”?
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Job stats in Barrie look good, but we're a long way from economic security" or "Temporary work not enough"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.
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