October 12, 2011

Hidden in Plain Sight (October 12, 2011)

Often, if you can see one of the ladies in the
above picture, then you cannot see the other.
The picture is a famous optical illusion of
a young woman AND an old woman.
Similarly, we have to remind ourselves that
poverty exists and needs to be addressed,
even if we don't see it easily.
Poverty is easy to overlook in western society because for the most part it is hidden unless you deliberately look for it.  Sure there are those who don't have their wits about them, often due to intoxicants or illness, that are easy to see in the streets . . . but they are only the visible minority.  The rest are often out of sight, and therefore, sadly, out of mind.

Let's start with street homeless.  As mentioned, we often see those actually "on" the street who may be too stoned or too ill to be able to hide themselves.  However, there are many more street homeless than we actually see on the streets.  Some hide (i.e. live) in abandoned transport containers, or under bridges, or within small storage trailers, or out in the bush, or in their car.  Others find refuge on a friend's couch or in their basement.  Still others can be found occupying a mat in a local shelter.  "They" walk among us . . . perhaps even working with us . . . and then at the end of the day retreat to whatever accommodation they are able to find.  I remember hearing a statistic from The Mustard Seed shelter in Calgary that 60% of its guests are employed.  Given the stigma and knock to one's self-esteem that comes with being homeless, no one goes out of their way to advertise that they are homeless.  Of course, as some jurisdictions are doing, once we choose to look at the issue then strategies can be implemented to eradicate homelessness.

Turning now to the working poor, people in such circumstances in Canada and other developed countries are way more prevalent than the homeless.  In Canada, 10% of all people are below the poverty line; and in the USA it is close to 15%.  Other developed countries have more, and some less, but it is an issue for everyone.  Once again, the working poor will not wear their net worth around their neck in a flashing neon sign, but rather will silently struggle trying to make ends meet that never seem to meet.  These are regular people, they could be you or me, and the stigma against poverty in a society that values being able to look after yourself keeps them psychologically isolated from the rest of the community.  Their kids are the ones who go to school without a lunch (and hope that no one sees them getting the "free lunch" so they don't get picked on), and who go fill their bellies with water during snack time.  Once again, if we decide as a society that we will not tolerate anyone having to suffer trying to get their basic human rights satisfied, then we can put in programs and policies to fully address the issue.

Of course, the billions in some degree of poverty around the world, especially the 1.3 billion in extreme poverty, are much more visible . . . but not necessarily to those of us living in the developed world.  Unless we watch the news or specifically search for 'world poverty' on the Internet, it is easy to put on the blinders and see only what we want to see.  We can see a majority of us with cars, housing, fashionable clothes, and electronic gadgets/phones; and lull ourselves into forgetting how lucky we are and that we're, in fact, part of the rich minority in the world.  However, if we could somehow remove the barriers of distance and time in order to co-mingle with everyone else, it would be all too clear how privileged and advantaged we truly are.  Simply opening our eyes to what is there to be seen would lead us, I believe, to taking greater and immediate action to eradicate extreme poverty around the world.  And, yes, we have the ability to do that, too.

Thus, the underlying objective for That Poverty Project is making poverty visible.  It's about advocacy on behalf of those who are either unwilling or unable to speak for themselves.  It's about engaging more people in combating poverty so that fewer people need to feel its iron grip; fewer need to be invisible.  It's about all of us recognizing that, but for some good fortune, any one of us could be in poverty; and "WE CARE" that everyone has their basic human rights met . . . food/water, shelter, access to education, basic health care, and proper sanitation.

Hey!! I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders

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