The Poverty Crisis

Many years ago a poverty activist described privilege to me as the ability to plan ahead. That privilege is tied to scarcity of resources – money, housing, food, healthcare, and more. This ability to plan is vastly different for folks in precarity versus those with stable life situations. With so many folks struggling with lack of access and privilege, our approaches to these differences cannot be one-size-fits-all. What we should want for all people is the privilege to plan ahead as far as possible.

For a 45-year old with a high-paying job and a mortgage-free home – privilege allows them to plan ahead by years to their next month-long trip to Thailand and even by decades to retirement and winters in Palm Springs.

For a third year undergraduate student paying for their education with student loans, they are planning out the next year of their studies before they can start to look for full-time work and tackle their debt.

For a 17-year old in foster care, they can only plan for the next year until they turn 18 and tumble out of the system.

For a houseless person with a short-term shelter bed, they can only plan the next day ahead before they have to line up again and potentially be turned away.

For someone with a substance use disorder, they are planning their next hit. This can be a few hours or even a few minutes at a time.

Privilege is the ability to think well into the future.

We cannot treat all people the same because their privileges are vastly different.

The goal must be to help those with the least privilege, who are literally days and hours and minutes away from death. Conflict amongst community members is often at its worst when multiple levels of privilege interact. We must hold space for all people.

For those of you with the privilege to plan far ahead, I want you to know that I understand and know that you are working hard for a better tomorrow and years into the future. At the same time, the focus and goal has to be to help those who cannot plan far ahead – because they should have a chance at a better tomorrow.

I cannot offer you a prescription for every exact solution that will get us out of the poverty, healthcare, housing and houseless crisis in the Downtown Eastside. But I can offer you this as my philosophy and approach.

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