Bif Naked: Welfare Food Challenge showed me people are afraid of poverty

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      I am a lucky girl. I feel blessed, fortunate, and totally present.

      Because I survived cancer? Sure. Because I found love after two divorces? Why not. Because I learned so much through participating in the Welfare Food Challenge? Absolutely. Just not about food.

      I learned about people.

      I discovered that people are afraid of poverty. The Welfare Food Challenge saw the participants eating on a mere three dollars a day, and like my fellow participants, I blogged about it through my social media pages. I took pictures of my dinner, and tried to create a positive space for people to leave messages and share. And they did!

      Many people, living on welfare here in B.C. themselves, came forward and shared their own stories, of survival and struggle, and allowed themselves to be honest and vulnerable. It was beautiful, and I felt very honoured that they would feel safe enough to share on my page. But then, like a lightening strike in a thunderstorm, the onslaught of comments came with deafening shock. Other people began to dismiss, accuse, put them down for their stories, and deliberately shame them.

      Blamed
      them
      For
      Being
      Poor.

      I was crestfallen.

      I felt compelled to write about this on my facebook page, and I tried to find a way to gently ask people why they were so afraid of poverty that they had to outright blame The Poor for being, well, POOR?

      I wrote, “I encourage everyone to examine their own feelings, as they rise for you. 'Poor Bashing' is a very revealing action and it is utterly oppressive! (Please examine why you would be doing that, and investigate your feelings and why that is triggering for you).”

      In hindsight, I realized that this is a reflection on our society and on our culture. People are defensive and reactionary surrounding poverty. People are resentful and, I’m guessing, that is subconsciously fear-based. But, the truth is, any one of us can find themselves in crisis, and in desperate need of assistance. Even me.

      I was on welfare as a young person, when I first moved to B.C. from the Prairies, and I was not happy about it. I didn’t want to be “on welfare” and could not find a job, despite trying very earnestly, along with my bandmates. Eventually, after a few long months, we found employment and were able to get off of social assistance. But, what if I wasn’t able to? What if circumstances went from bad to worse?

      Or what if I had been diagnosed with cancer back then? Would I ever have been able to transcend poverty? Or what if I was fleeing abuse? Or what if I’d been in a car accident and could not work and lost my home at the same time? Or what if these things happened to you? These scenarios are very familiar to many people on welfare.

      In British Columbia, the welfare rates have not been raised in almost a decade yet the cost of living continues to rise. Welfare rates are over $900 a month below the poverty line for people living in Vancouver. The high cost of living is something many of us can relate to. More and more, most of us, regardless of our tax bracket, live cheque-to-cheque. What if the cheque never came? What would that look like for most families?

      Each of us has the potential to find ourselves in a crisis, and each of us would have to cope and survive that in our own way. If someone has barriers on top of barriers, such as mental illness and no family and no job? What if it was your elderly parent?

      These questions I raise to try to wake us all up to the truth about people on welfare: they are starving. Not just for food, but for someone to stand up for them, care about how they live and survive, and take action to motivate our community leaders through our efforts.

      Can the people of B.C. and our government, in all conscience, look someone in the eyes and say I want you to live in deep poverty because you have had a string of misfortunes?

      The Welfare Food Challenge 2014 may be over but it isn’t an end, rather, a beginning. The challenge is for us to help and stand up for each other, get involved with Raise the Rates, sign their petition, write to our MLAs, and open our hearts to our neighbours.

      Bif Naked is a recording artist and writer who participated in this year's Welfare Food Challenge.

      Comments

      16 Comments

      MD

      Nov 13, 2014 at 12:23pm

      Yes, they do, and many in the middle class have convinced themselves "it cant happen to me", while simultaneously convincing themselves that they are just one tax cut, or one less social program away from joining the 1% (even though more will slide down that latter than will ever move up).

      Not really any different than people thinking "it cant happen here" when, notwithstanding probability and time, anything that can happen can more or less happen anywhere.

      One day people may make decisions on what reasonably and probably is as opposed to what they think or want it to be.

      Problem is I doubt that will happen before the 27th century.

      a sceptical american

      Nov 13, 2014 at 12:25pm

      Herman Melville's remark comes to mind - “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.”

      Katherine

      Nov 13, 2014 at 1:04pm

      Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

      To take it a step further, what even if it IS someone's "fault" that they're poor? What if it's just the result of a long line of bad decisions and they no longer have any decisions left to make? There will always be this contingent.

      I don't think it's my job to assign value or pass judgement on the reason for someone's poverty. It is my job, though, as an informed and compassionate member of our society to be kind and help out however I am able.

      Shon Togan

      Nov 13, 2014 at 1:20pm

      Apparently we wear poppies to show that the lives of people who died with their guts hanging out and their limbs blown off was not in vain, and served to produce a society where people routinely go hungry and live on the streets.
      Nice job Canada - how proud we deserve to be.

      Dave M

      Nov 13, 2014 at 2:08pm

      All those people downtown who are opposing the housing for the homeless need to give their head a shake. NIMBY at its finest considering most of the homeless "reside"in Vancouver

      XYZ

      Nov 13, 2014 at 2:51pm

      I loath social media ,
      its there to show what you've lost and what you don't know and what you should have .
      The internet is a barren landscape like our comments ,
      There is few trees and the water tastes like piss and it carry’s a brick for you head .
      Our library's help you think ,
      but first you have to know how .
      Educations dead ,
      empirical understanding is ground down and smoked to get high,
      Stick your finger in a pie and watch her come ,
      make me come , she come ,me come , he come ,comecome .
      Opinions are like assholes , everyone has one .
      Politics is black magic ,
      Oil is it's blood ,
      Guns are sex organs and its children eat porn .
      The poor are a by product of your selfish fucking thoughts .
      & your the next one ,
      so by a gun ,
      there for everyone .
      The poor are richer than you think ,
      But you forgot how ,
      remember .

      Mr.Soft

      Nov 13, 2014 at 8:55pm

      Isn't Canada the "wet dream" of corporate welfare?

      TM

      Nov 13, 2014 at 9:54pm

      The penan indigenous people have a "proverb"
      "The poor man shames us all"

      cathy

      Nov 14, 2014 at 8:20am

      I too survived breast cancer and was in a cancer support group. I had a good union job, paid sick leave and never had to consider that my illness would lead to losing my job and poverty.
      This was not the case for some in the group as they were contending with job loss, sometimes not much food and/or moving to cheaper accommodation all while dealing with cancer.
      This stress made their recovery harder.

      Thanks Bif for all you have done in raising awareness and taking the Welfare Food Challenge.
      Poverty is not someone's fault. Everyone deserves a safe place to live, decent food and clean water.

      Shon Togan

      Nov 14, 2014 at 9:13am

      Here's another funny thing. Lot's of women wail and moan and have something to say about Jian Ghomeshi's alleged behaviour, but I don't see many entitled princesses in here, discussing with outrage the hundreds of thousands of women - both single moms and otherwise - who face the daily challenge of providing for themselves and their children. Yet another failure (and revelation of the actual intent) of feminists - it's all about making sure middle-class, college-educated white girls have their privileges bumped up into first class rather than making sure all the women at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder have a greater opportunity to escape poverty.
      Real impressive ladies - real impressive.