It’s my impression that here in Hamilton we have a disproportionately high percentage of the population living in poverty. And yet there seems to be an entire industry devoted to alleviating or eliminating it.
It has been my experience that two of the most valuable things that we can give to someone, at any age and in any situation, but particularly to people who are struggling with poverty, is access to examples and opportunities.
Most of us are not lifestyle innovators. We go with the flow and are influenced by peer groups and the examples that surround us. And there’s no good reason we should each need to reinvent the wheel. And yet, if the wheels keep turning and we’re still struggling with the same problems, problems we may not even be able to identify, then maybe we need a new wheel.
The key word is ACCESS. It seems to me that many of the classic efforts to fight poverty actually create barriers to access for many people. Consider low-income housing projects where they lump everyone in together providing no alternative examples to anyone, or schools within a public system that are not created, maintained or valued equally and therefore actively create barriers to opportunities for many students.
Once upon a time I delivered the mail for Canada Post and for a while I delivered to a particular stretch that was full of overly large buildings each of which seemed to be stocked full of people with identical problems as if some agency said, “Lets stick all of these people here and all of those people there, that will make OUR jobs easier.” But it didn’t make the lives of the tenants any easier, as evidenced by the building in which everyone in it was on some form of disability pension. Each of the customers that I dealt with was either blind, or in a wheel chair or was physically challenged in some way that made it clear that there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for them to help each other.
“Can you change my light bulb for me?”
“Lady, I can’t even see your light bulb!”
Another route that I delivered to had a good mix; it had a fancy condo building, a city homes building, a co-op townhouse area, a school, a community centre, a commercial strip and a park at the centre of it all. This model provides access to diverse examples for everyone and untold opportunities; for work, engagement or relationships that will be mutually beneficial.
Now the city of Hamilton is faced with some development opportunities, and I keep hearing about plans that are homogeneous. Plans that lump people into little ghettos; poor ghettos, old ghettos, business ghettos, arts ghettos. It doesn’t matter what or who you ghettoize, it’s still a ghetto. And it will become one unless enlightened people take advantage of successful examples and have access to opportunities to create value for others.
Lets mix it up folks. The gene pool benefits from variety and so does our community. Now is our opportunity to look for good examples and ask; “What do we really want to create?”