Being poor is a ‘full-time job,’ speaker tells social audit forum
Several people spoke at the podium Wednesday night in the Nicholas Mancini Centre, in the shadow of Christ the King Cathedral near King and Dundurn.
They were all articulate and passionate. But only one captured the room, and caused hearts to swell, for reasons perhaps simple and complex: in admiration for her courage, sorrow for her situation, and regret that the world is what it is.
That speaker was Alana Baltzer, who, at breakfast at home that day had found — not uncommonly — two cockroaches in her coffee cup; who, as a child, sat at her desk in school praying her classmates wouldn’t hear her hungry stomach growling.
“I grew up in poverty in Hamilton and it affected every part of my life … and it is unacceptable,” she said.
“Being poor is a full-time job, a daily hustle, just trying to get something to eat.”
She was one of 29 residents who agreed to be interviewed last spring about life “on the margins,” in poverty.
That research was part of the Hamilton Social Audit, a process organized by Hamilton Faith Communities in Action to gather voices and make recommendations to address poverty in the city.
The meeting Wednesday, attended by about 50 people, was held to publicly release the 53-page report that was prepared by Bill Johnston of the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton, and Katherine Kalinowski, executive director of programs at Good Shepherd.
In brief, some of the audit’s recommendations include: implement a housing benefit for low-income Ontarians; raise the minimum wage to $15/hour (from $11.40/hr.); raise social assistance rates based on the cost of living in good physical and mental health and with dignity; institute a food supplement program.
The report stressed that recommendations are based upon the perspectives of the 29 residents in Hamilton who were interviewed for the audit; “they are not intended to offer a comprehensive response to poverty in Ontario, but rather to address the core concerns identified by these participants.”
Another recommendation was titled “Culture Shift,” which includes teaching poverty awareness in the earliest grades in schools to address stigma.
And that is something Alana Baltzer said she has felt from her own family, who criticized her for stepping forward to talk about her experiences.
“You’d think your family would be behind you, but they were upset about it because I was speaking about a taboo in my family. It shows how deep stigmatization runs among those who are those living in poverty, because they know they will get judged … I may be poor but I have a voice, and I can use it.”
Baltzer didn’t quote St. Paul from 2 Corinthians in her brief address, but it would have fit, given her story and the setting: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”