Our Poverty Industry

I remember when US President Johnson declared his "unconditional war on poverty" in 1964. He listed ten physical things that, to him, defined essentials of American life. If a family didn't have one of these ten, they were 'living in poverty'. If they missed three or more, they were 'poverty stricken'.

I remember because of my mother's reaction: she didn't have a single one of the ten when she was growing up on a farm! Yet her siblings included an emeritus professor at McGill University, a business man of the year of Granby Québec, and a successful engineer; she herself became a musical pioneer in St. Catharines while raising four children.

So many activists feel that inflating the scope of their concerns makes them more powerful as advocates. Everyone must be 'suffering' from diabetes, whatever. There has been a steady trend in Canada, fuelled by our poverty industry: that 10% of Canadians must be 'living in poverty', no matter the incredible increase in health and physical comforts for all of us over our 150 year history.

But, the recent assertion by Stéphane Giguère, CEO of Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), went beyond anything I have ever heard: we Ottawans should "get ready" for an annual income of as much as $80,000 to allow entry to Ottawa's publicly subsidized housing.

Giguère's rationale is that OCH projects shouldn't be ghettos, that there should be a mix of the under-privileged and successful in them, that no one should be required to move out of subsidized housing just because they no longer need it. But, ten thousand Ottawa residents are on the waiting list with need, in many cases desperate need, for affordable housing now occupied by people who no longer need it.

My pension is a bit over half Giguère's target. I'm helping a granddaughter through university and two Syrian refugee families to join us in Canada; two more granddaughters will follow this coming September(2017). I'm not anywhere near living in poverty. On the contrary, I feel rich and privileged.

But, I did have to live well below the then defined 'poverty' income with my children for a time. To me, real poverty is defined by a simple question: Are you able to be healthy? in safe housing, with basic but nutritious food, with adequate clothing, with access to health care and education... Zero luxuries, but healthy.

If your answer is yes, as mine was then, our poverty industry should lay off claiming you. They should leave you free to be yourself.

And, so should we all.

John Sankey
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