Today I had four hours of meetings about poverty issues in Peterborough. I am at the policy / decision making level for poverty issues in this city. It's good work and work that I feel called to. But there can be a disconnect to those living in poverty when you are at that level.
What I am realizing through these meetings that we need to be careful about language. I work for Community Living Peterborough. It was drilled into my head there that you don't say an autistic person or a down syndrome person. You say a person living with autism. I needed to correct someone today that instead of saying poor people we need to say a person living in poverty.
Why is this important? It may just seem like semantics. I think we need to be careful about how we label people. This person living in poverty is so much more than just poor. They may be creative, or struggle with a disability or be a son or daughter, a mom or dad. When we use derogatory statements like "poor people," we can make sweeping judgments about them like they are lazy when in fact they may be dealing with a debilitating disability.
One of the challenges we are having with the Mount project is that the most vulnerable people (those who are homeless or in bad housing) are often the hardest to house. Why is that? Well I am just learning this myself but from what I understand it is for several reasons. One is that they lack resources. People who receive Ontario Works only have a $295 shelter allowance. There is very few housing providers that can afford to house people for that amount.
Another issue with housing the most vulnerable is the fact that addiction issues often times but not always come along with living in poverty. Those living with mental illnesses are often prone to addictions cause quite frankly they just want something to help them feel better. This is my non- professional understanding of addiction. So along with addiction comes safety issues for people who may be using drugs or other substances.
Our challenge as the Vision / Governance group for the Mount initiative is how to we create a community that is thriving and includes people living in poverty. We aren't going to get it right all the time and I know this. But I think it begins with little things, even in the way we describe people who live in poverty. Lets choose our words wisely.