How to End Poverty

You might expect a post by this title would include narrative about income, jobs, housing, child care, transportation, education, health services and so on. It is true we need to address these areas (and more!) if we are to end poverty. But the challenges we face are less about the actions above and the barriers we face in terms of resources.

We are the challenge. And by that I also mean we are the barrier to what we claim we want to do.

And who is “we”? Honestly, those of us who are not poor are the challenge we must address to end poverty.

I imagine some of you might wonder, “Hey what about poor people? “Aren’t they the reason why they are poor and disadvantaged?”

Of course there are poor people who have contributed to their own suffering. Sure, there are poor people who have made or still are making bad decisions.

This posting is not about excusing the poor from participating in their own solutions.

It’s about not excusing ourselves – the rest of us who have enough, often more than enough, sometimes such excess that the juxtaposition of opulence to poverty is unnerving.

Poverty exists because we let it.

Some might argue poverty exists because we want it to.

I am not saying the non-poor sit around and say things like, “Hey, I think we should let poverty exist.” Or, I want poverty in my community.”

helpIntellectually and emotionally, most of us are all for ending poverty. We agree children should not go to school hungry. We agree single mothers need better, more affordable access to child care. The mentally ill should be supported. No one should being beaten and abused. And so on.

No one would wave a placard in front of the legislature that says: POVERTY IS GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY.

Most of us want change, dare I say big change. I believe we mean it when we say that. In fact, the rally cry to end poverty is one that is uniting many to do something. End Poverty Edmonton is our local movement, led by Mayor Iveson and involving a diverse group of community leaders.

I am encouraged by this. I am pumped to be a part of the Mayor’s task force. There are many, many strong ideas emerging from the work of End Poverty Edmonton.

Ideas are not all that difficult to come up with. Acting on them is another matter.

And that’s what I am worried about.

Will we choose to spend money differently?

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting excited about spending $600 million of tax payer money for an Arena while children live hungry, while families are homeless, while young people sleep in parks to escape the abuse at home.

Increasing the box seat capacity so that people who can afford box seats have more opportunity to watch a game from up on high should not be a public priority, should it? I know. The Arena and the Galleria and all the other development will be good for business, bring more revenues into play.  I understand the economic benefits, but so far the development underway to get there is proving to be a motivation for displacing the poor and the homeless, not helping them.

No one will want them hanging around on game day. Of course no one wants the homeless hanging around their business, home, church, social club and so forth. No one wants used needles strewn across their property or have to deal with overturned garbage cans left behind by a woman looking for something to eat.

It’s impossible to run a small business when some one is passed out in your doorway. It’s scary to be screamed at by a homeless man who is suffering from delusions.

Solving poverty is possible if we change. I mean we who are not poor. If we don’t make different and better choices, poverty will continue to do its thing to all of us, well…most of us.

Yes, we need to work differently and better. We need to rethink services and structures and roles shared among governments, business, faith communities, helping agencies, and so on. Yes, funders need to get out of their annualitis rut.

We all know that already, don’t we?

Truth is, ending poverty will take more investment in doing so. It will cost more right now to get to where we want to get. We won’t get there by believing the real problem is that our provincial government has an expense problem. Alberta is the least taxed province in Canada by 12 billion dollars. Does the divide between us and everyone else have to be that big?

When Lougheed was Premier, the oil royalties were 26 cents on the dollar. We all loved him, right? Now the oil royalty is a dime on the dollar.

Alberta has a revenue problem.

I have said this before: personally I do not relish the idea of paying a sales tax. It won’t stop me from buying  six dollar lattes or renting a cabin in the mountains, but I just don’t want to pay more is all. It won’t hurt me much. Maybe a sales tax will be an irritant like a small rash on my foot. But I will carry on, just like most of us who make a good living will carry on.

What if we had the smallest sales tax in Canada and all of it went to ending poverty?

In order to end poverty, we need to make different decisions, better decisions. We need to decide that those of us with means will have to invest some of our good fortune in the future of others who are suffering.

Just like those of us who can claim to be successful did not get where we are alone, it is also true those living in poverty won’t rise above it by their lonesome.

And maybe, just maybe, if we ended poverty in our community we would see businesses benefit from a “trickle-up” effect and be able to close down social programs no longer needed to make living poor bearable.

Wouldn’t that be something?


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