Not having enough money to pay bills or buy groceries carries with it a sense of shame for those forced to live under the yoke of poverty.
It’s just one of the findings the Quality of Life Network uncovered in a recent survey aimed at helping 27 member agencies better serve their clientele.
The results of the survey, which were publicly released on Monday, show that accessibility issues are a close second on the list of desired improvements the city’s marginalized population would like to see improved, to give them a sense of belonging to the entire community.
The poverty issue, which more often than not is a matter of circumstance and misfortune than the fault of those living with it, is an issue of respect, said Joan Williams, executive director of Hospice Northwest.
“If we can enhance the level of respect that people are treated with, then perhaps they will be able to recognize their poverty as a social condition and not that it is their fault. So their personal sense of shame will be somewhat addressed by their enhanced respect from the rest of us,” Williams said.
It also means fundamental changes are needed in Ontario’s social assistance programs. People living on assistance simply don’t have enough money to eat or pay rent, Williams said.
“In order to meet basic needs, we really do need to increase those income supports like ODSP and Ontario Works,” she said.
“We also really need to be looking at ensuring that those who are working are able to achieve a living wage so that most of the working poor don’t also have to deal with the fact their basic needs are being met and they have a sense of shame as well.”
The barriers clients face are equally daunting, and sometimes more widespread, Williams continued.
Accommodations for people with disabilities aren’t easily found, those with criminal records can’t always find work or volunteer opportunities and racial discrimination is a factor for thousands in Thunder Bay.
Access to information and a lack of awareness of available services were also listed.
“There’s not only some things that are an absolute, tangible barrier that you could not get over, there are also barriers that are perceived and they become more systemic,” Williams said. “Because of the way people feel about their inclusion in different activities or services, if they don’t feel that they’re easily included, then that will be a barrier.
Nancy Chamberlain, chairwoman of the Quality of Life Network, said it’s important to make society’s marginalized people feel they have a voice.
“It was very important that they had an opportunity to tell us directly what they felt impacted their quality of life. And then together with 29 agencies, we can make a difference,” Chamberlain said, adding she’s not surprised poverty topped the list, with 46 per cent of the 213 respondents listing it as their No. 1 concern.
“I am not surprised, but I’m really proud of the fact people told us, ‘We’re poor, but we’re not people that need to be disrespected,’” Chamberlain said. “’We have issues, but those are issues. As people we would like to have respectful behaviours.’”
Just knowing what the problems are makes a great start to eliminating the problems, she added.
“I think we want to take a look at our own workplaces and ask, are we respectful. Are our policies respectful, are our hiring practices respectful, and how we use volunteers, is that respectful? Then we want to branch out from that and lead by example.”
The report offered 130 suggestions to improve quality of life.