Poverty and Dignity


C. B.

Here we sit now in Victoria with a tent city, while countless others find places to sleep in parks or out-of-the-way spots they can slip into to get a bit of rest away from the eyes of the city, the outcome of government cuts going back to the 1990’s, no building of new affordable housing—for decades!—waitlists for subsidized housing on which names sit forever, market rents going up and up. And add to that desperately low welfare rates, if you can get any welfare at all. And condo after condo goes up, and where’s the rental housing? Nowhere to be seen, and even the cost of a room is out of reach. So where do you go?

But we see somebody setting up their “home” in downtown Victoria, and we see people we don’t want to see, in places we don’t want to see them. Out of sight, out of mind, and let me live my life without having to think about the cost of inequality, the cost of treating people as a line on a budget sheet, or not even a line on a budget sheet, non-existent. But those people, they keep demanding things—a place to exist, dignity! No, I don’t want to know about it. Let’s direct our frustration at those whose circumstances make them vulnerable. That’s it, let’s stand up to the poor—we’re not going to take any more of this.

This is how inequality turns citizens against each other. This is how the cracks form in a society, with people falling off the cliff, and others—afraid, indifferent, angry—turning on those falling off the cliff. But don’t think for a second people aren’t affected by the violent language and the hateful proposals that turn up online and on radio talk shows and in letters to the editor.

“Poverty should not exist” becomes “The poor should not exist.” BUT IT IS POVERTY THAT SHOULD NOT EXIST! In a rich country, in a rich province, which certainly does have the resources to provide housing for all who need it, but which has chosen not to. This is a political failure, not a personal failure. This is a failure in our society to value every human being equally, and a failure to even be able to imagine a society that values every one equally. We’re all in this together. Let’s look after each other. And let’s treat each other with dignity and respect.