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Today I got angry.

There are a thousand reasons in a day why I will get angry. Pick one. Racism, homophobia, body shaming, poverty, bad Hollywood movies… take your time. I’ve got a while. It’s not as though I go through my entire day angry at the world. I think about the battles I choose to fight very carefully and some of them do make me angry.

Today I got angry.

One of the battles I choose to fight is poverty. Let me reword that. One of the battles I choose to fight is the distribution of wealth because I live in a nation that has an embarrassment of riches while this winter homeless people will freeze to death. It’s a battle I choose to fight because I live it.

Recently I wrote a blog about Edmonton’s housing situation and another on the problem with wealth distribution. Both of them vent my anger rather nicely and I’m rather proud of them. However, they did raise some eyebrows and criticism from someone I respect and admire.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind criticism. I cut my teeth as a writer with some editors who I swear lived on writer’s tears. This, though, made me angry.

This person told me that I should tone down my anger because people don’t want my anger. To be fair, they’re right. People don’t want my anger but it’s not going away because the situation that made me angry isn’t going away. Long before those posts ever saw the light of day I took steps to try to alter the situation through polite discourse and reason.

That worked oh so well.

This person then fixated on a comment I made about people in power using the poor for photo ops. I stand by my statement and I’m not taking it away no matter how uncomfortable it makes people. People in power stay there because they do things like this to fool the populace into thinking they give a shit about the little folks. They don’t. It’s smoke and mirrors and those of us on this side see it for what it is. However, this person told me that “lots of people don’t see poor people that way.”

And that’s when I saw red, Your Honour.

If there is one person out there who can tell me the difference between this statement and #NotAllMen or #NotAllWhites, I’d love to hear it. Start the discussion with a whip and chair, though, because I’m not really in a listening mood.

This person could be right. It’s possible that not all people see the poor this way. However, enough do and if you find yourself using any version of “not all” in any way then you’re part of the damn problem.

So today I got angry and I put on my Don Quixote personality and politely told this person I would keep getting angry at a situation that deserves nothing but my anger.

Tomorrow I will get angry too.

Riding the Black Horse

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This is the first time in years that I’ve used my writing to work out what’s going on in my life. Right now I’m so overwhelmed that I feel I have no choice.

See, that’s the biggest problem right now. I’m helpless. I’m poor and that doesn’t give me a lot of options and I have a whole list of disabilities that limits me as well. I have this fantasy about living a life where I’m allowed to make choices that benefit me instead of being forced into situations that benefit some faceless government.

I just got a notice today that my rent is going up $265 in two days. Yes, you got that right. Two whole days to come up with $265. Looks like groceries are optional now. See, I live in a low-income building and let me give you a few facts.

  1. There is no definition as to who can live in a low-income building. There’s no regulations stating that you have to make under a certain amount to live here. I could be a millionaire and still rent here.
  2. There’s no regulations stating what they can or can’t charge for their apartments. Legally, they could raise my rent to $1000/month if they wanted to and still call themselves “low-income.”
  3. There’s no regulation stating how they determine my rent. A common practice in low-income buildings is to have tenants hand in their tax assessment and base rents on that. However, that’s not the law. It’s just common practice.
  4. They’re under no legal obligation to give me any notice in rent increases. Yes, folks, you read that right. Two days is completely legal.
  5. I can be kicked out at any time if I can’t pay that rent.

Yes, that’s the life I live as a tenant of a low-income building. Sometimes low-income buildings will evict tenants they don’t like on very spurious reasons. When you’re poor, you learn to live with this reality. You are always one step away from being homeless and everyone knows it.

That’s not all I’m dealing with this week, though. I’m finding out things about myself that leave me feeling at odds with myself.

Back in 2011, I had an assessment done. At that time I was given the diagnosis of Non-Verbal Learning disorder. I did my research (for which I’d like to thank both the Edmonton Public Library and the University of Alberta library) and felt more in control knowing more about what it was. Once put on the Asperger’s spectrum, it’s been given its own diagnosis. However, it exhibits a lot like Asperger’s.

I also deal with anxiety. Nothing new to anyone who’s been reading this for any time. I talk about that black horse a lot. What is new is something I failed to read in the assessment; I have ADHD. It’s at this point my brain stops and I have no words.

Coming to grips with the reality of the link between NLD and Asperger’s is enough of a blow. Realizing I have ADHD on top of it…. how do you add that information into your life? Yes, it’s a diagnosis and shouldn’t mean much but those four letters stun me. I’ve always known my brain works more like a blender on high than the functioning computer it is but that didn’t bother me. I worked with it. But ADHD? How do you add those letters into your life?

So I’m particularly vulnerable right now and want to feel like I have some control. The truth is that when you’re poor and disabled, control is taken away from you. The Powers That Be believe that, somehow, you’re unable to handle control so you’re treated like a child. I don’t know where anyone got that idea but I’d really like them to get it out of their heads.

Right now I’m scared because something new has come down the pipe and this infantalization of me as one of Alberta’s poor and mentally ill has left me with few tools to deal with it. So, in a desperate attempt to gain some control, I grasp at the only thing that has ever made me feel powerful; my words. Right now, they’re all I have.


The Worth of Poverty

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A homeless person's camp

In Edmonton, this is someone’s home

There is a shame that is associated with poverty that no one has addressed so far that I’ve seen. I’ve heard politicians talk about “strategies” and social workers talk about “assistance” but no one talks about the unbelievable humiliation that occurs when you’re poor.

When humans stopped their hunter-gatherer ways and started farming, they gained something; knowledge of what it meant to own property. Suddenly we started comparing what we own to what our neighbours own. Everything became property. From our sperm and eggs to our offspring to our spouses to our farms. We stopped looking at each other as people and started seeing property.

All this means that if you’re one of the have nots, you have less worth than the “good” folk.

I know some people will protest. After all, there are such good works as Income Support, the Food Bank and the Hope Mission. If you’re one of the haves, you support them, give your hard earned money to them and help those less fortunate. You maybe give a coffee to the bum on the street corner begging for change. In a really generous mood you might buy them lunch. Not once do the “good” folk think about the cost to the poor.

At Income Support there’s a belief that if they pay less than a person needs to live it will motivate them to find a job. There’s a few assumptions being made here that are horribly wrong. First, there’s an assumption that if you’re coming to Income Support, you’re too lazy to be motivated to want to work. Second, that anyone on Income Support does not deserve to live in dignity. Then there is the demand that you lay your life bare just to pay your bills and eat for another month. It isn’t enough that the Alberta Government demands that you account for every moment of your time, this “keep em hungry” mentality only perpetuates this cycle. There’s nothing to address how the person got to that position in the first place, nor is there any way to stop the cycle that starts once a person is on support. Humiliation leads to depression which leads to a sense of hopelessness which leads to humiliation. This isn’t addressed by front line workers or Income Support.

If you ever had to use the services of the Food Bank, there is a humiliation that happens when you don’t have enough food to feed yourself. The people at the Food Bank are aware of it and try to lessen it but that doesn’t change that it’s there. It’s not just the Food Bank. Stop and talk to the homeless guy on the corner. He’d love to go home to a shower and a good meal but he holds out his cup knowing you think that loonie you put in the pot is going to another bottle.

Those who have pity those who live in poverty and are repulsed by them in equal measure. The repulsion is covered by good works, donations of food and clothes cover up the guilt that somehow those who have less taint the city. Don’t believe me? Talk to someone about the homeless problem sometime. The usual answers involve a belief that the person must be lazy or crazy. “Get a job, any job” is a familiar refrain to the homeless. Money is thrown at the surface problems of addiction and mental illness but the problem of poverty never goes away.

There is a misconception that there will always be poor. Yes, this is true in a society where we are more concerned about things than we are people. Alberta is one of the richest provinces in Canada. Hell, we’re richer than even most areas in North America yet we have this poverty problem. Alberta’s job prospects are growing at a rate that is unbelievable but even that’s not enough to address our poverty problem.

So what’s the answer?

Let’s start by eliminating the humiliation.

Stop looking at those who are poor as some kind of animal to be rescued. Start seeing their humanity, their person. Let’s address the core problem of poverty; there is an unequal distribution of wealth going on in Alberta that leaves people to suffer horribly. It isn’t a matter of things. It isn’t about who has what. There’s a deeper problem that needs addressing; we assess each other’s worth based on what they have. We are people first and foremost. Strip us all naked and that’s who we are at our core. Let’s start from there.

I can foresee a lot of politicians who will nod and smile and tell me I don’t understand the depth of the problem. I understand better than they think. It’s time that many of our government systems get a serious overhaul. Alberta Income Support, Health Care, MLA expenses and pay, so many more. It’s time to get rid of some of the outdated thinking that’s going on and listen to those who are most deeply affected by these systems.

It’s time to change.

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