You may have noticed my use of the term welfare. Partly this is because I always found the trend to rename things just to make them sound better annoying, very annoying. A Sanitary Engineer is still a garbage man (woman). And ‘social assistance’ is still welfare. I concede the point that welfare as a label has its own baggage. Still any baggage would, over time, be transferred to the label ‘social assistance’. My real objection is that this term is truly misleading. Using ‘assistance’ implies that the system seeks to and does provide assistance (v. & n. 1. Help 2. NAmer: the act of helping). Based on my experiences and observations, applying the word assistance to the way the system currently functions is akin to saying that a guillotine is of assistance in curing a headache. Using the term assistance is of useful value to the ideologues of the current government since the word assistance carries with it the impression of helping. Applying the term assistance to the program suggests that the program is about helping people. Laughable. I question that even a group of ideologues , such as comprise the current government, could set out to design a system to assist people and end up with a system that hinders and raises obstacles as well as the current system. Or maybe I am hasty in ruling out incompetence.
The Liberal party has consistently excelled at the use of misleading labeling. When they first took office they enacted ‘tax reform’ and ‘lower taxes’, this being the labels they applied to their fiscal programs. Of course as part of lowering the tax rates fees and service charges rose or came into being. As a result of these ‘tax reforms’ and ‘lower taxes’ the working poor and middle class were out of pocket additional $$$, which flowed into the pockets of the wealthy. But labeling the changes what they truly were ‘Assistance to the Rich and Powerful’ (the rich got assistance by transferring their burden onto the poorest taxpayers) would have made it impossible to sell to the public. And politics and ideology is about selling and has nothing to do with truth.
So the public has to decide what it wants the system to Be or Do. If the purpose is merely to salve the publics conscience by convincing themselves they are rendering assistance to those in need, it can be left alone. The current government has demonstrated its ability to say things that sound good and apply misleading labels to soothe the public into inaction. It could be renamed “Guilty Feeling Relief System”, shortened to Relief System so as to sound like it is to provide relief to those in need – almost as good as the current use of assistance to suggest the system provides help.
In the event that the public decides that the system should in fact be of help and not full of hindrances, changes are needed. No just to the system but to other programs that can an impact in providing help. Mental health, education, training, transportation, treatment centers – and numerous other programs that impact on helping those in need. The system itself needs to be overhaul so as to provide less hindrance more assistance. Posting the definition of assist/assistance in plain view of those in charge and the workers would serve as a reminder of what the Purpose is. Perhaps the biggest change of all is in the attitudes of the public. Throw out the derogatory labels. These are people who need our help, we want to help them, NO we will help them.
We Can make the system render ‘Assistance’.
There are many ironies that you find yourself involved in when homeless or on welfare. Some are just amusing, some are small inconveniences, but some are large difficulties and hugely ironic. Getting something to eat on Sunday is one such large irony. While the (warm, dry) churches are full of people exclaiming their Christianity and love of their god, the streets are full of their fellow man exposed to the elements and struggling to find something to eat.
When you are warm, dry, healthy and well fed missing a meal or not eating for a day has no consequences outside of you feeling hungry. It is a minor inconvenience and so you tend to think of one day of no food as ‘no big deal’. But for the homeless and the poor that one day of nothing to eat can be a Big Deal, especially at this time of year (winter0. It is cold, wet and windy in the outdoors where reside the homeless and the poorest of the poor. They are cold and wet, the wind stealing their body heat. Food becomes not something to be tasted and enjoyed but FUEL to feed the body’s fires and keep the body’s core temperature up. Not only to avoid severe discomfort but for survival. Yes I do mean survival. Those unfortunates we hear of frozen to death in Ottawa, Toronto or Edmonton are the ones you hear about because corpse-sicles make such good headlines. Those who die in less headline grabbing ways are just as dead but become just overlooked and forgotten obituaries. No, I am not being overly dramatic. Already this wither several have been in hospital with pneumonia. They could have died 9and some undoubtedly will) of pneumonia. But the true cause of death will be Homelessness. And what does it say about us that they emerged from a bout of pneumonia and their time in the hospital looking better than they had in months? There are many other adverse health effects that can be caused by hunger when that hunger is complicated by exposure to the elements and the many other health issues facing the homeless.
Thus, you develop a real appreciation for those who take it upon themselves to step up and fill a desperate need. There is the couple who have been handing out bags of edibles out of their own pockets. They have become treasured treats, giving joy and pleasure to those who have far to little of either. Then there is the church group who on the first Sunday of the month has been providing warm food often real and tasty chili on a cold windy day. Mmmmm chili! And they on occasion bring those luxuries: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, deodorant etc. Lately another group has take on responsibility for the second Sunday of the month.
To me the real heroes of this tale are the Bag Lunch People. A cheese sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit and cookies in a brown lunch bag. It may not sound like much, but on a wet, cold windy day is manna from above to the hungry. This church, these people took it upon themselves to fill the huge void that Sunday represented. Three out of four Sundays they were there without fail to relive that hollow feeling of hunger. They cover the Sundays no one else does and should one of the other groups falter they would undoubtedly step in an fill the need. So while I extend thanks to the couple, to the first Sunday folks and to the second Sunday people who have stepped up to provide help to those in need, I reserve and extra large THANKS for the lunch bag gang who stepped in to fill a large, real need. Addendum: This past Sunday the lunch bag gang rode once more. They arrived later than they normally would, so that if the first group did serve lunch as scheduled, their bagged lunches would serve hungry stomachs as dinner. Should this sound like a group you would like to hang around with you should look for them more properly named: The Open Door; Pastor Bill 604-897-4826.
Special thanks to the young people who accompany and assist their parents on Sunday’s. There is a lift to one’s spirit in seeing the zest and joy for life in the young.
You know you really need to find work when you begin to view long weekends as terrible imposititions since they interrupt your job search as all the resources you use are closed an extra day.
I desperately NEED work so I can learn to love long weekends again!