Be­ing poor is a ‘full-time job,’ speaker tells so­cial au­dit fo­rum

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JON WELLS The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor jwells@thes­pec.com 905-526-3515 | @jon­jwells

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.”

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