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Don’t judge; walk with the poor

by | Jun 9, 2012 | Vincentian Family

A Canadian  SVDP volunteer reflects on her learning experience and  invites people at City Hall to get out their walking shoes and meet with people like this man, to walk alongside, to listen and to understand how poverty affects Hamiltonians.

“As I walked alongside this man, I learned where to get clothing and food, where to eat free and what the bus routes are. He misses nothing because he is a child of the system, raised by parents who, at the time, did the best they could — the Children’s Aid Society.

He is used to having someone tell him what he should and shouldn’t do. He does what is asked, but life isn’t easy and it continues to be a challenge; however, he is resilient and has overcome many things.

Recently, someone asked where he had been to get such a wonderful tan. He said, from walking. He has to walk most places because he can’t afford the bus to all the various appointments.

I recommend that people at City Hall get out their walking shoes and meet with people like this man, to walk alongside, to listen and to understand how poverty affects Hamiltonians.”

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I was fortunate a few months ago to hear a young woman speak at an event sponsored by the Ontario Association of Social Workers here in Hamilton. She shared a day in her life. It reminded me of one of my first days as a social worker in 1974 at Catholic Children’s Aid Society in Hamilton and was given a booklet to read called Walk a Mile in my Shoes.

This woman spoke of one day in her life and how it made her realize she didn’t want to live in Hamilton anymore. She now operates Wasaga Cares in a community that has embraced her and allowed her to use her strengths and gifts. She is one of our Hamilton stories.

Consider a man estranged from his children for whom he had been a stay-at-home dad — a job he loved. He cried when he asked for the help of our organization, and so begins another story.

We met and developed a relationship, forming a team of supports including a pastor, a couple of volunteers and me. He was dealing with Ontario Works, whose goal was for him to go back to school so he could receive upgrading to get employment. He lived with another couple in an apartment and he always paid his rent on time. It was his priority. Then he learns his roommates haven’t paid their portion of the rent and he is evicted.

In the meantime, his children are in another community and the Children’s Aid Society says until they finish investigating his parenting, he has to have supervised visits at the daycare. His brothers had been helping him get to the visits, but for many reasons, they can’t do it anymore. So volunteers help him with that. The pastor also helps get him to the appointments he needs to attend.

He doesn’t eat well. His dental care has been neglected for a while and he has trouble chewing his food. He doesn’t eat much anyway because he really can’t afford to. Ontario Works will pay part of the cost for some dentures, but not all, and he is left with a bill of $500. So he makes arrangements to pay off this debt over time, taking it from his monthly welfare cheque of $566. I talk to the denturist and hear he is making his payments on time.

He needs a cellphone for all those calls to Ontario Works, the Children’s Aid Society and the adult education program. That is costing him $30 a month, pay-as-you-go. Sometimes he runs out before his next cheque, but he usually has a phone of some sort. He has moved and his housing seems stable now. He eats Friday mornings at the coffee time offered by Hughson Baptist Church, at an eatery that offers free sandwiches and meals at other churches.

When I don’t hear from him for a few days, I learn that there was mould on one of those sandwiches. He is allergic to mould and had been sick. However, this doesn’t daunt him. He keeps moving forward and with the help of a team of volunteers and community supports, his life looks different now.

As I walked alongside this man, I learned where to get clothing and food, where to eat free and what the bus routes are. He misses nothing because he is a child of the system, raised by parents who, at the time, did the best they could — the Children’s Aid Society.

He is used to having someone tell him what he should and shouldn’t do. He does what is asked, but life isn’t easy and it continues to be a challenge; however, he is resilient and has overcome many things.

Recently, someone asked where he had been to get such a wonderful tan. He said, from walking. He has to walk most places because he can’t afford the bus to all the various appointments.

I recommend that people at City Hall get out their walking shoes and meet with people like this man, to walk alongside, to listen and to understand how poverty affects Hamiltonians.

Personally, as a volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul, member of Hope (25/5) and as director of WrapAround Services, I am amazed at the number of informal services and the expansion of organizations in this community that have developed because the official, funded systems don’t work for people.

There continue to be those with power and control in our community who judge without understanding and deny help that could so freely be given.

A voucher to the Hamilton Farmers’ Market is only a start in what needs to be done in this city to make it a better place to live and to raise our children and grandchildren.

Elske de Visch Eybergen is director of WrapAround Services, Shalem Mental Health Network, in Hamilton.www.shalemnetwork.org

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