A Poverty of Values and Priorities
When I read news stories like this, it makes me wonder how a society can be so advanced and yet have so completely lost its sense of values and direction.
Lisa Roberts and her 15-month old son are homeless and she is eight months pregnant. She and her son spend their days in libraries or in parks and their nights huddled under blankets sleeping in playgrounds. She is on welfare and is eligible for just over $1600 / month in benefits but cannot find a place to live for less than $800 which leaves little for food, transportation or child care.
She lives in the GTA where the waiting list for affordable housing is as long as twelve years and the shelters are full to over-flowing.
Landlords are reluctant to rent to people on welfare, especially those with small children because it has been their experience that they lose money and often have significant damage done to their property.
As tragic as Lisa Robert’s situation is the real tragedy is that her situation is not unique.
Child poverty is a real and present issue in Canada as is homelessness and poverty in general. It is a national disgrace that there are so many living in destitution in a country as rich as this. It is even more disgraceful that so many who have comfortable lives continue to demand more entitlements for themselves even as children, like 18 month old Liam Roberts, live and sleep in a park.
It isn’t just our priorities that are distorted, it is our willingness to see so many lives wasted and in many cases, even before they have really begun to be lived.
The Ontario government just awarded a 2% salary increase to elementary school teachers; pretty much all of whom are already well-paid and live in homes that are far more comfortable than sleeping under a playground structure. They awarded what amounts to a $6.00 / month increase to welfare recipients which will go a long way to accomplishing nothing other than assuage some a guilty conscience here and there.
For its part, the federal government under Stephen Harper considers the issue to be solely the responsibility of the provinces and the municipalities even as they hand out millions to people in other countries. Last week alone, the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced contributions of $250 million to aid Syrian refugees.
It makes you wonder if Lisa Roberts and her little boy might not be in better circumstance if they were Syrian rather than Canadian.
I don’t believe that anyone should simply live for free but we have created a welfare system that has nothing to do with helping people get back on their feet and become productive members of our society. Instead we hand out millions of dollars in pitiful little individual amounts that do nothing except perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
We invest billions in glamourous new transit programs when we’re not arguing over which type of transit we should build even as people around us, including children, are going to bed hungry and don’t know from where their next meal is coming.
We argue incessantly a partisan politics instead of taking our heads out of our asses and remembering that before we are progressives or conservatives, we’re bloody Canadians and Canadians don’t turn their backs on those in need.
We have lost our way, my friends. While there are many who donate money and their time to helping the poor, as a nation we haven’t got a clue or the values to get one.
We have corporate welfare to bail out companies and to increase benefits to union members. We have money for grandiose schemes and and we have money to waste on bickering and gamesmanship. We just don’t seem to have enough money or enough smarts to effectively address the poverty on our doorstep.
Quebec gives the middle class $7 / day daycare paid for with borrowed money and transfer payments from Ottawa while other children live in shelters and parks.
Ontario squandered half a billion (which is the equivalent of 2.4 million weekly groceries for a family of four) cancelling two power plants to save two seats in an election.
In the city near where I live, construction of a bridge has been halted at a cost of a few million because an empty barn swallow nest has been found and the barn swallows might return to use it. Barn swallows are an endangered species and we can justify spending millions to protect them. Apparently children are not an endangered species and we can’t justify a national program to protect them and raise them out of poverty.
Across the country and in virtually every city, it is the same thing. Everything is more important than poverty. We pay lip service to it. We throw some dollars at it but we have no strategy from start to finish to lift other Canadians from the poverty in which they are trapped.
It’s easy to dismiss the poor as being shiftless and lazy because some are shiftless and lazy but not the majority and especially not children. Too many are caught in a downward cycle that perpetuates their situation and there is little in the way of support to help them to both get the essentials they need to live and to put together a plan for lifting them out of the poverty they endure and we ignore.
I never drive into the city that I am not approached by more than a few begging for spare change.
Imagine that. Begging for money has become the norm in Canada where once we thought of it as being the sole province of impoverished countries with large slums and crumbling economies.
I don’t care where anyone stands on this issue or how anyone tries to rationalize it or explain it away. There is no excuse – and I mean absolutely no excuse – for an 8-month pregnant woman with an 18 month old son to be living in city parks in this country!
Try remembering that the next time you drop by Starbucks for your $5.00 double mocha latte or Tim Horton’s for your double-double and apple fritter. ., ,
. . .and then tell me again what it was about the UN’s criticism of poverty levels in Canada that made so many of us think it was unfair and unjustified.
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