From Megan Kesich’s perspective, too many people view those living in poverty with particularly jaded opinions around what led them to their often desperate situations.
“People think we are lazy, jobless, homeless, neglect our kids, or are only out to milk the system,” said Kesich, who shared candidly about her living experience in dealing with poverty during the latest Northeast Community Conversation (NECC) discussion.
About 120 people crowded into the auditorium at The Salvation Army Hillcrest Community Church on Jan. 19 to take part in the first of a two-part community conversation on The Many Faces of Poverty. NECC, a grassroots and intergenerational volunteer group, organized the discussion.
Kesich is just one of a growing group of individuals and families — commonly referred to as the working poor — who have so much more to worry about on top of having to deal with the daily challenges of living and raising a family on minimum wage.
A single mother of two children, one of whom suffers from Cerebral Palsy, Kesich also works part-time at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre. Kesich owns her home, but struggles to provide some of the basic necessities of life like food for her family.
The real issue, as many learned during the conversation, is that 17,000 more families are now accessing the London Food Bank and most of them are the working poor.
The most common reason these individuals end up using the Food Bank is because of the lack of affordable housing. After paying for fixed expenses like housing and utilities, many are left with very little money to purchase food or even adequate winter clothing.
“The working poor is a population demographic which is missed and falls through the cracks in our government systems,” Kesich said.
Teresa Johnston, NECC steering committee member, was struck by some of the alarming statistics Jennifer Kirkham, London Poverty Research Centre, shared in her detailed presentation, The State of Poverty in London.
One particular statistic that stood out for Johnston was that that London has 16.7 percent of its population living in poverty compared to 13.9 percent in Ontario and 14.9 percent in Canada. Of this number, those aged newborn to six, 7-18 and 18-64 were the most affected.
Another hard truth is that many Canadians have less than kind views or opinions about the poor or those who face poverty.
Rev. Mike Shaw, St. Francis of Assisi Parish Mission, wants these individuals to stop blaming the poor and understand, at a deeper level, why poverty exists.
“The homeless feel inhuman, especially when people do not look them in the eye, even when they are offering them some form of charity,” said Shaw said, who also shared how he helps those in need without handing out cash.
“I always carry Tim Horton’s gift cards with me,” Shaw said. “Once I get to know the individual and spend some time getting to know the person and what their story is, I give out backpacks with food items, gift cards to A&W, grocery stores, and clothing essentials.”
The evening's conversation included an open dialogue discussion with a panel of eight community advocates including representatives from the city’s Ending Poverty Initiative, United Way, London Food Bank, and grassroots community leaders. Audience members shared their personal struggles.
Ron Moss urged the audience to write letters and petitions to city councillors, as well as members of provincial and federal government. “They need to hear from us citizens. This may give the voiceless a voice too.”
Part two of The Many Faces of Poverty community conversation will be held in March. For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or check them out on Facebook.
Jacqueline Fraser is lead organizer of Northeast Community Conversations.