**We envision the end of homelessness and poverty in our community. Our hope is that by sharing our experiences you might understand why we are passionate about that vision, and join us in changing the DNA of how our community treats homelessness and poverty**
Earlier this year, we had a group of university students participating in a fundraising and awareness campaign called 5 Days for the Homeless. Each group that volunteers with us gets a chance to connect with people in our organization experiencing homelessness, and many of our friends want to assist in the fundraising efforts.
During the week, as I sat talking with one of our friends who has been homeless off and on for 18 years, she informed me that, “[she] was going to get these kids their PhD… their pan-handling degree.” She went on to explain the tips she would give them, which included:
- Don’t shower, even if you want to. People have more sympathy for you when you’re dirty.
- Even if your hands and ears are freezing, no toque or mitts. People are more likely to pass by you if they don’t think you’re suffering
There were many other tips, that included ruining your clothes so that people would pity you, and I had a realization in that moment – Our responses as a community to poverty and homelessness have created a system where people have to prostitute themselves to survive. The act may not be sexual, but the idea is the same. Someone must compromise their appearance, their physical condition, truly, their very well-being to be able to access the help and support that they need to survive. While I recognize these concepts and see them in the various systems of support that exist in our community, I am often shocked when they are so explicitly stated by the people I know and care about that experience homelessness and extreme poverty each day.
It leads me to question whether the stereotypical appearance of poverty reflects that people who are suffering don’t care about themselves, or that the only way we will care is if they sell their suffering in a way that motivates us to action. I can’t speak to the experience of pan-handling… that’s part of my privilege, but, quite often, it is the experiences of the most vulnerable members of our community that teach us the most about where we need to grow as a community. In this case, there are two responses:
- We must recognize our tendency to evaluate people’s experiences based on the surface of what we see. Experiences of trauma, colonialism, and racism inform our work every day. We must move from a place of shame to a place of responsiveness. Each day, we see life and death experiences that cannot wait for us to feel motivated to act. We are responsible for what happens in our community, and based on social organization, we are responsible for each other. We must move from action motivated by shame to responsiveness motivated by connectivity and shared knowing.
- We must become proactive in our responses to addressing homelessness and poverty. We cannot simply wait until someone’s experiences are so abject in nature that we cannot stomach their suffering on our conscience. Housing First, harm reduction, transitional income supports, and livable wages are all viable opportunities to not simply reduce the suffering of people experiencing poverty and homelessness, but to reduce the total number of people suffering these experiences. Medicine Hat, AB is trumpeted for ending homelessness – we can too.
Ending homelessness ins’t a pipe dream. Medicine Hat has successfully achieved what is known as functional zero homelessness. Suffering will still occur, but it is our responsiveness and support as a community that either entrenches its cyclical nature or ensures that chronic homelessness and poverty become things of the past. We are driven by that, and we believe our city is too.
– T –