And then there were the poorest amongst the poor…

A Guest Blog by Julie Gaudet, Researcher for the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice

Because just when you thought being on welfare would place you at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of income in this country, it turns out that being on welfare without a rent subsidy puts you in an even tougher spot: amongst the poorest of the poor…

Since, indeed, there are two distinct classes of poor in Canada: those who are “lucky” enough to have won the subsidized housing lottery, and those who unluckily sit on waiting lists awaiting their turn at being lifted out of extreme poverty.

As living in poverty is one thing: being denied the same minimum level of living standards as compared to your neighbors. But living in extreme poverty is an entirely different game where you are denied even some of your most basic rights of food, shelter, clothing, and/or transportation. Where you end up having to choose between adequate housing or nutritious foods for you and your family.

And living on welfare without access to subsidized housing in certain parts of this country definitely does create situations of extreme poverty with housing prices being what they are.

So there are two classes of poor in a country as wealthy as ours, but… Why?

Why do we accept to treat the poor so unfairly? Would we treat people living on minimum wage the same? Would we pay only half of the people working at minimum wage the full minimum wage while we would place the other half on waiting lists? Half waiting on lists waiting to reach the full minimum wage that is supposed to be guaranteed to all? Half only getting paid a fraction of the minimum wage while they wait, and wait, and wait? No.

And isn’t subsidized housing a PUBLIC service? A public service which is supposed to be available to ALL that need it. Like healthcare which is available to all in our country that need it. We wouldn’t dare deny half of our people access to healthcare… Right? Nor would we deny public education to half our children… Right? No we wouldn’t. Because it just wouldn’t be right!

As it isn’t right to deny half of people living in poverty one of their basic human rights: the right to adequate housing. But in this country we turn a blind eye. We do not take responsibility. Constitutionally, in Canada, no level of government is legally required to provide affordable housing to all. Domestic law in Canada does not formally recognize the right to adequate housing. We accept that some will go without. But… What happens to the half that goes without? How do they even survive?

Some are real survivors in deed. They use all kinds of strategies and stratagems… Some use all their money to pay for rent, then go to food banks and soup kitchens for food. They get their clothing from charities, hand-me-downs, and clothing banks. Some live with family or friends. Some couch surf. Some beg on the street. Some commit crimes to access free shelter and food… In prison.

But some run out of steam. They run out of strategies and stratagems. They attempt suicide. Once. Twice. Three times. They might end up in hospital where heat and food are again free of charge – just as they were in prison. Or… They might “succeed” at taking their own life. No more worries. Right? No more worries because in this country if you don’t have enough means to purchase a casket or to buy an urn – your final resting place – there are funeral benefits for that. We will pay. To preserve your dignity. To ensure that everyone gets a proper final resting place.

Too bad we failed at meeting our obligations while you were still alive. Too bad we were not always as compassionate towards you while you lived. Too bad we didn’t make more of an effort to understand your most vulnerable position. Too bad we were using our wealth to spend on luxuries while you went without food and/or a warm place to stay.

We are wealthy enough. We have no excuse.

We as a country have to start budgeting with basic needs for all in mind first. That’s all. First things first: basic needs for all… Affordable housing for ALL!