All posts by Franziska Emslie

#VolunteerTalk – Slavica

1) What motivated you to become a volunteer or supporter of YWCA Niagara Region, and what does your involvement look like?

My motivation to become a volunteer at the YWCA came from Kaitlyn who had introduced me to the YW during my first year at Brock. The YW was promoting their annual Women’s Leadership Summit and being in the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Brock, I thought the event was interesting and related to my field of study. When I first started, I only contributed to the blog posts but because one of the credits I needed to graduate was a Practicum course that required me to have 100 hours of volunteering, I decided to become more involved with the YW than I had previously done.

As of right now I help out the ladies upstairs with any jobs they need me to do. Most of the time it tends to be research based, particularly, finding contact information on companies in the local community who might sponsor or participate in events the YW is hosting and any other odd jobs.  I also spend my Saturdays helping the kitchen staff make lunch, I’m usually on baking duty which I have discovered I have a great passion for and look forward to doing every week.

2) This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week is “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections, and community”. What value has volunteering brought to your life? Have you experienced any of these “4 Cs”?

I definitely feel like I have developed connections within the organization with all the various people who work at the YW which has reached over into me helping my community, like working on the chili cook-off part of West Niagara’s Coldest Night of the Year Event. I feel like the work I do, however little, is really valuable to them and knowing that I am helping my community, makes me look forward to coming to work each day.

3) How do you make time for volunteering, and do you have any tips for those who are starting their own volunteer journey?

Since I’m a student, I choose the hours and the times I volunteer based on my school schedule and any other responsibilities I may have. I usually volunteer twice a week, a couple hours each day.

I suggest doing something you’re comfortable doing. I wasn’t comfortable working in the front desk because I felt like that was a lot of responsibility and answering phones causes me major anxiety so I decided to do everything except that instead. Helping out in the kitchen, working on the blog, volunteering at events, etc.

4) Are there any misconceptions about volunteering that you would like to debunk?

The biggest misconception I think people have is they don’t understand the long term value of volunteering for themselves and the community. Most people do it for the short term and that’s great but non-profits function largely because they have volunteers. I haven’t done really big jobs in my time here, but I know that the help I provide is valued and that the result is that my small actions have somehow contributed to making the lives of the people who use YWCA’s services better.

5) What experience, memory, or lesson from being part of YWCA Niagara Region has made the most impact on you?

I don’t have one particular lesson or memory that has been impactful to me because I feel like the whole experience in general has changed my life for the better. I feel like a happier person, knowing what I do here matters and is valued.

6) What would you like to see happen over the next 90 years of YWCA Niagara Region?

To represent change and growth for the next 90 years, I think the organization as a whole, not just specifically Niagara, should undergo a name change to represent the diversity of people that they help.

#VolunteerTalk – Catharine

1) What motivated you to become a volunteer or supporter of YWCA Niagara Region, and what does your involvement look like?

I wanted to be part of a team that is on the front lines of helping people here in St. Catharines. I’m a front desk volunteer with the YW and I also help out with an art group.

2) This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week is “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections, and community”. What value has volunteering brought to your life? Have you experienced any of these “4 Cs”?

Volunteering has introduced me to the kindest, and also some of the strongest people in my community. The value of volunteering is immeasurable. I feel so blessed!

3) How do you make time for volunteering, and do you have any tips for those who are starting their own volunteer journey?

You can’t always find the time for volunteering, but find what time you can.

You might think that what little time you have isn’t enough, or wonder what you can accomplish in an hour. Every hour or two counts!

 

 

4) Are there any misconceptions about volunteering that you would like to debunk?

That it isn’t worthwhile because you aren’t being paid. As a volunteer, you are paid so thoroughly in gratitude and have the opportunity to meet people who can teach you a lot. When applying for a job, this experience can also help you to understand your strengths!

5) What experience, memory, or lesson from being part of YWCA Niagara Region has made the most impact on you?

There’s a lot of judgement out in the world for adults who need help, whether they are sick, in transitional housing, abused, or living hard on the streets. When you volunteer with an organization like this, what strikes you is how often people in the worst positions are the kindest you’ll ever meet. It’s a very humbling experience to understand that. It makes you want to help others to the extent of your abilities.

6) What would you like to see happen over the next 90 years of YWCA Niagara Region?

I’d love to see the YWCA’s funding increase to be able to house more families, hire more staff, and to possibly create a Niagara Region family shelter that allows single father and two-parent families with a male partner to stay together.

 

My Letter To YOU

This post was written by our client Linda. We changed her name to protect her privacy. Coming to the YW has changed Linda’s life, one step at a time. 

Hello, my name is Linda. I’m an 18 year-old female. I would like to begin my story by giving you a brief overview of the roller coaster that has been my life.

The Early Years. 

From the moment I was born, life was not so easy.

During pregnancy my mother was in active addiction and I was born withdrawing due to my mother’s drug use. My earliest memories as a young child are those of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. As a result of this I developed anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

Somewhere In The Middle

I can remember being enrolled in school later than most of the other kids. I believe I only started in grade 1. Never having the chance to attend JK and SK, I was behind. I attended classes that had fewer kids. I began to catch on quickly, and did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL. During my elementary school years not much had changed at home and I began to normalize the abuse and neglect. I began to excel in school and took an interest in as many extracurricular activities as I could. I struggled every day with what I am now able to identify as my mental health. As a young child I just wanted to be like the other kids, fit in and be accepted.

I did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL

As Time Went On

I excelled in my extracurricular activities at school, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming and track and field. I was popular and well-liked by my peers. I started high school and even attended OFFSA representing my school in many different forms of sports. I received trophies and medals. On the outside looking in no-one would have known all of the daily struggles I was facing just to get up each morning, and show up. I intended on keeping it that way but I felt so alone.

The Overflow

The adolescent years are a strange time for us. All of the pressure to fit in, especially as a female. Always being told we need to look a certain way to maintain our popularity. Having all of the hormones of a typical teenager, all while trying to cope with my mental health, was not easy. I began to self-harm, and developed an eating disorder in order to deal with the constant overwhelming feeling of having no control over anything in my life.

When that didn’t work, I began to experiment with recreational drugs. It worked. I didn’t feel anything. I liked it. Before I knew it, I was relying on these substances just to make it through the day. Before I knew it, I was no longer excelling in sports and was hanging with a whole other group of people.

I began engaging in some very risky behaviors. Some of the things I experienced in the early years of my adolescence are situations that no one ever has to deal with in a lifetime. Overdoses, episodes of drug induced psychosis, physical and sexual assaults. All before the age of 18. I went from school to school, house to couch surfing, what feels like a million different programs, hospital stays. Bouts of sobriety and times of clarity to relapses and more active addiction. I felt that eventually if I pushed hard enough and broke enough rules, I would be evicted, discharged, and referred somewhere else. That was normal for me. So I pushed my supports away. As much as I knew I needed them.

YWCA

Finally, I was referred to a program through the YWCA, called the Off Site Transitional Housing Program. I was accepted and placed on a wait list. I was shown an upcoming available unit within the first few months of being on the wait list. It just wasn’t for me. The Transitional Housing Worker was willing to keep me on the list and offer me the next available unit. I was shocked. No one had ever really cared what I wanted or thought. I had a choice, I was in control of what I wanted for my life, and where I saw myself living.

I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again.

I was then offered another unit two months later. I instantly fell in love with it. It was the cutest little pad. A place to call my own. I began working with my Transitional Support Worker on a monthly basis, I was enrolled back into school. I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again. I have a fixed address. I have been able to have a safe place to call home. I began to work on budgeting skills and rejoined the wrestling team. As amazing as things were for me, I relapsed and began to engage in drug use. I had been down this path before with a similar program.  I was self-sabotaging. I knew I would be discharged from the program, I had broken the rules. This was my way out. As much as I loved the program, this much stability all at once was a bit scary for me. I was in for a surprise though, I was not discharged from the program.

The crazy thing is that my worker never left.

My Transitional Support Worker set firm boundaries and rather than making the choice for me, she continued to let me make my own choices. For the first time in my life, no one was going to force me into sobriety, I would have to make this choice for myself. I rebelled against this for about a week. The crazy thing is my worker; she never left. She was there every time I called, she helped me to access detox, and advocated for me with school. I felt so ashamed that I had relapsed. I was assured that relapse is a part of recovery, and that my worker was here to support me through the process. I set new goals for myself, entered into a contract, which helped to hold me accountable for my choices. I started back at school and was able to pick right back up where I left off.

Ongoing Journey

I am still a participant of the Off Site Transitional Housing Program, I am in grade 12, I will be graduating in June, I have been accepted into College and will start in September. I attended OFFSA this Fall representing my school for wrestling and placed silver overall. I have enrolled to attend a treatment program for the summer. I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving through the YWCA. The amount of supports and programs that are offered to the women that this agency serves is phenomenal. This is an organization that truly stands behind their mission statement. They offer 24/7 supports to anyone in need.

I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving
through the YWCA.

I have the ability to access the agency anytime, as they are always there to support. I know that I have a really long journey ahead of me and a lot of hard work. The most assuring feeling I have is knowing that as a client of the YWCA I will never have to face this journey alone.

Until Next Time 

I’m very eager and excited to see all that I will have accomplished by this time next year. I know that I have an amazing support system in my corner through the YWCA and I look forward to continuing to share my ongoing successes with you.

Sincerely,

Linda

 

Pathetic Love Songs

Full disclosure, I love a good love song. But every now and then, singers or their writers just get it all wrong. Love is a two-way-street, so please – do not be the first in line, in hopes that when he changes his mind, he can take a chance on you. You’re better than that.

One of my favourites though, when it comes to songs with a protagonist who is utterly lacking self-worth, is hands down “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. Why, you ask? I’ll show you…

JOLENE

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

DOLLY! I am begging of YOU! If he makes you feel like you need to beg Jolene not to take him, you are with the wrong man!! It’s not about Jolene, this is about you and your man.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Again, Dolly, why can she? Why do you think she can just walk up to your man and take him? Something is not right here.

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain

OK, fine, that part is poetic and Jolene does sound like she’s quite pretty.

And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

No, Dolly, just NO! Never mind that I am sure you could compete with her, but why do you feel like you have to in the first place? Does your man love you – yes or no? Can a few auburn locks be so impressive that he would just walk away from his amazing better half? If he makes you feel like you’re in competition with every pretty woman around you, he is a bad choice.

He talks about you in his sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

AHA! Now, we’re getting closer. Just when she has the listener wonder how paranoid and insecure one can be, she’s finally telling us that she is not pulling these suspicions out of thin air. He talks about Jolene is his sleep, Dolly? Darn right, you can’t keep from crying. That is messed up. Have you ever asked him about that? Not something that would go unaddressed where I come from…

And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene

Dear Dolly, you are way too understanding. How can you say that? Let me handle this one for you: Jolene, you don’t take a man that is already taken. It’s as simple as that. So take that smile that is like a breath of spring and smile it at someone else. I should not have to point this out to you, Jolene. When they teach you to share in Kindergarten, that does not apply to significant others. Got it? 

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

You could have your choice of men
But I could never love again
He’s the only one for me, Jolene

There she loses me. I get it, this whole thing sucks. Here you are, all in love and here goes your man, talking about Jolene in his sleep but come on, Dolly? He’s the ONLY one? You could NEVER love again? There are plenty of fish in the sea, and there are seven seas, my friend.

I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do, Jolene

Wrong again. Your happiness depends on YOU and what YOU decide to do, Dolly. This one’s not on Jolene.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

On this note, I hope that you felt loved this Valentine’s Day, this February and that you do every day – whether it’s by a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, or your pet rabbit. You’re worth it. You’re not in competition with Jolene or anyone and if he doesn’t make you happy, please, please walk away. Life is short.

 

Monthly Donors

“Imagine if one of your loved ones or family members was homeless. Would you help that individual?”

These were among the thoughts that ran through Jeff Smith’s mind as he experienced the Cardboard House while it was on display at the Pen Centre. Rather than
ignore this problem, he chose to take it personally and imagine that the homeless person was his brother or sister.

Monthly Donor Jeff Smith

Immediately, Jeff decided to become a monthly donor and to make the impact of his gift even greater. Monthly gifts provide a consistent and reliable source of funding that allow us to plan ahead, and allows the YW to strengthen the programs and services offered to homeless women and their families across Niagara.

At the beginning of this new year, please consider joining Jeff and becoming a monthly donor. Every little bit helps.

Thank you!

Question Of The Month – Coping

For quite some time now, adult colouring books have been promoted as the ultimate way to find peace within yourself and to leave your thoughts and worries behind. What do you do to clear your mind?

Stephanie

What I do to clear my mind and find inner balance varies based on how flustered my mind is. My go-to activity to clear my mind is to write in my journal – it has an almost 100% success rate. Writing about how I’m feeling, how I felt in a certain situation, how I made someone else feel, and ways I can work towards feeling better always helps. I’ve even taken a page out of Oprah’s book – I keep a Gratitude Journal. Every now and then, I’ll open this journal and write 3-5 things that I’m grateful for that day. Family, friends, good food, a warm bed – whatever makes my heart full and reminds me about how lucky I am, even when things seem to be at their worst.

Dana

I actually have yet to try the adult colour book. I have always hated “colouring” for some reason. I have always been in to drawing, but not filling in the lines with colours. I used to make comic books and ask my sister to colour them in for me when we were younger. Needless to say, I don’t think I will be buying an adult colouring book to relax anytime soon!

I like to think I have a pretty healthy way of dealing with stresses, and I think I cope quite well with things. Some things better than others, of course. The biggest thing I have learned so far is the importance of breathing during stressful times. It’s the simplest, yet can be the hardest. I remember when I was younger, anytime I would get upset and cry I would start to hyperventilate because I couldn’t control my breathing and I would just lose it. Everyone would tell me, “Just breathe, just breathe!” and I would think: “I’M TRYING!!” Now that I’m older, I’ve learned to control and focus on my breaths when I am going through something unpleasant. I am someone who gets worked up very easy, and am quite sensitive, so this is a coping technique I use regularly.

I think I really started to understand the importance of breathing from taking a few hot yoga classes. I took the VERY hot classes, Bikram yoga, and I had never done any yoga before in my life. I’m not very athletic, flexible, or anything, so it was a big challenge for me to do something like this. I ended up loving it! Yoga teaches you how to focus on your body, and control your breathing and mind to be in a calm state. I always left the classes feeling like the weight had been lifted off my shoulders (and I was also very, very sweaty). I can remember being in some very stressful and tense situations, and hearing that voice in my head go “inhale, and exhale… slowlyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.” Do you ever have those moments when something has really upset you, and you are trying not to cry? And then someone comes up and asks you if you are alright and it’s like a trigger to start crying? But you don’t want to cry in a public place? When that happens to me, I always deeply inhale and exhale and count my breaths to help diffuse the situation and keep my composure.

I also use the app “Calm” on my phone, which helps take you through different types of meditation. I only have the free version, so there aren’t as many options, but I love using it to tap out for 5 minutes and focus on breathing and my body. I would highly suggest trying this app out; it’s very convenient to turn off the lights in your office for 5 minutes and meditate. My coworker told me about it and it’s been spreading like wildfire. I also really enjoy laying down somewhere comfy, and putting on a few of my favourite relaxing songs. I consider it another form of meditating and losing yourself to the music. It’s easy to listen to the lyrics and the melodies and forget about your troubles.

Sometimes though, those things aren’t enough. I still let myself cry when I need to cry. I believe crying is a coping mechanism, and although it may not be the prettiest thing, it always feels so much better to let out all that anxiety and negativity through your tears. Sometimes you just need to let it all out and cry when you are going through something hard. I would rather cry than keep all my feelings inside and let it weigh me down. After a good cry, I always feel sleepy – so usually I go to bed and have a great sleep because I’ve let it all go. I wake up feeling better. A good cry can sometimes be the best cure.

Fighting Human Trafficking

Janet and Karen were 17 years old and lived in Thunder Bay when an older girl befriended them. She was fun, beautiful, self-confident and the two high school girls felt special for getting to spend time with her. Until that one day when everything changed. They had plans to meet in the park as they had so many times before. This time was different. He was there. They had never seen him before but there was something about him, something in his eyes, that gave Janet a shiver. What happened next, happened fast. The thought of it is almost too hard to bear and yet, it is all too common and we need to, have to, talk about it.
Janet and Karen were shoved into a trunk and brought to Niagara. They found themselves in a hotel room and were soon caught in a web of forced sex work, drug addiction, emotional and physical abuse and no way out.

Service providers in Niagara see victims of human trafficking come to their doors on a regular basis but often lack the knowledge and tools to address their specific needs sufficiently. “That is what brought on the idea to get together to develop an Anti-Human Trafficking Protocol,” explains Krystal Snider, the YW’s Skills Development Coordinator. In partnership with the Niagara Sexual Assault Centre and Victim Services, she brought forward a proposal to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “The main goal is to enable community members to easily and clearly identify victims of human trafficking and to then be confident in their ability to offer supports and information about intervention to them.”
We are fortunate that the Canadian Women’s Foundation acknowledges the importance of Snider’s idea and proudly announce that the YW is the recipient of a $25,000 violence prevention grant.

“We see it regularly in our own shelters at the YW: women are sent in to recruit other women and girls to come work for them.”

“This project is so necessary because Niagara is home to two border cities – Niagara Falls and Fort Erie,” says Krystal. “There has been an identified need for quite some time. We see it regularly in our own shelters at the YW: women are sent in to recruit other women and girls to come work for them.” For Janet and Karen, the YW was their way out. They managed to escape the hotel room that had become their prison and are back safely with their families in Winnipeg today.

A shared Anti-Human Trafficking protocol in the region will help more women like Janet and Karen to get the support they need to escape human trafficking.

Question of the Month – Leadership

With the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women (NLSW) coming up on October 22nd, we are writing about leadership this October  – the challenges, the beauty of it and what feminism has to do with it all.

We asked our bloggers and the NLSW Planning Committee what their definition of leadership is:

Niagara Leadership Summit for Women 2016 from Jennie Marlatt Visuals on Vimeo.

Crystal

For me, leadership has always been an elusive trait to define. GOOD leadership though, that one’s easy. The ability to motivate and facilitate people and situations to achieve your shared goal. The best leaders I know have the gift of utilizing their team’s actual strengths rather than trying to fit them into a preconceived idea of perfection.

 

What do you think? What is your definition of leadership? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Question Of The Month – Let’s Talk Addiction

The Bell Let’s Talk campaign brings a lot of attention to the stigma around mental illness, year after year. While a hashtag campaign alone won’t change the way an entire society has looked at mental illness for decades – centuries even – it at the very least is a conversation starter. A conversation that we have to have.

What we see at the YW every single day, especially in our Skills Development program Women’s Addiction Recovery Mediation, is that mental illness is often closely tied to addiction and vice versa – a topic that we are going to further explore on the blog this month.

To get us started, we asked our bloggers:

How do we as a society deal with people who struggle with addiction and mental health issues?

Franziska

“She’s losing it” just about sums up how my friend first talked about her mother Pearl, who is in a home. She is almost 80 years old, dementia… it happens, right? Except that that is not the entire truth – not in  Pearl’s case, as I recently learned during a late night conversation with my friend.

Pearl is an alcoholic. She has been drinking pretty much for as long as my girlfriend can remember. As kids, it was a game for her and her two younger brothers to “find the bottle” – find where mommy hid her booze this time. What sounds horrible when she says it out loud today, decades later, was just part of her everyday life as a kid. Her mom wasn’t angry or violent, she still prepared dinners, made sure they got to school on time. It’s just that once dinner was served, she retreated with a drink and some pills while the kids and their dad ate dinner together. It was just how it was.stigma

It was when their dad passed away that Pearl stopped functioning – quite possibly because her husband had covered for her or filled in where she was lacking much more than anyone was realizing. My friend and her siblings had their own families by then, jobs, houses, busy lives. Pearl’s state quickly deteriorated and when my girlfriend had to call the ambulance one too many times, after yet another drunk phone call after a fall, she had to make the decision to find a home for her mother.

Pearl has been in the home for almost ten years now, has stopped drinking and is so demented, likely due to the brain damage the drinking has caused, that she has long stopped craving a drink or if she does, she cannot acknowledge or communicate the want or need anymore. She does not remember much but she is happy, content.

None of this is strange to me. People are alcoholics, some of them manage to turn the corner, others don’t. What is weird though is that my girlfriend is more comfortable telling the world that her mother “has lost her marbles” than to admit: my mother is an alcoholic. To me, this is indicative of the mindset we are faced with in society: old people become forgetful, odd, that knowledge is as old as the hills, mind you it has never been as well understood in its causes as it is today. But someone being an alcoholic! God forbid! Addicted to alcohol? Why, no! How shameful. That only happens to uneducated people who had bad childhoods and grew up in sketchy neighbourhoods.

Is that not how so many of us still think?

It is that very mindset that makes it so darn difficult for not only the people who struggle with addiction themselves but also for each and every one around them, the people who love them, to speak about it.

I look forward to this month’s blog posts and hope that they, too, will be a conversation starter – because we need to talk – mental health AND addiction.

The Downward Spiral Of Poverty

This August, our blog has been all about Poverty and Health. A group that faces the close connection between health and the downward spiral that is poverty every day is Bridges Community Health Centre. We invited Rhonda Barron, Health Promoter at Bridges, to share her experience with our readers in a guest blog.

Janet

Janet turned 56 yesterday, although she’s definitely feeling much older these days. In the past year she lost her husband of 25 years in a fatal car accident and her mother to a stroke.

smoke-1001667_1280She is consoling herself with cigarettes – a habit she picked up again after ten years smoke free – occasional drinking and confining herself to the sofa most nights curled up with a book, or lately, binge watching the third season of Orange is the New Black.

Every morning she makes her way to the local pharmacy just down the street from her red brick three-storey apartment to a part-time cashier job she’s had since 2006. It’s a reasonable walk, but Janet usually drives playing the same script over in her head as she makes her way to her car: “I’ll walk to work tomorrow.”

Trained as a Dental Hygienist, Janet worked for a busy dental practice in downtown Niagara Falls for a number of years until an accident left her unable to perform her duties. Now her only option is low-skilled minimum wage employment, part-time at that.  

In the past six months she’s been using the little savings she and her husband were able to tuck away to pay her rent and put food in her fridge.

As a construction sub-contractor, her husband had no benefits and no pension. He earned decent money when there was work, but the construction industry in Niagara ebbs and flows making the availability of work anything but consistent. Now with Jake gone, Janet’s on her own.

She’s estimated her savings will carry her 12 months at best.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral. Her vision is blurry, she grows tired easily and lately she’s been experiencing tingling in her hands and feet. After some coaxing from her sister, Janet made an appointment to see her nurse practitioner at the Community Health Centre she belongs to.

The Diagnosis

After a few tests and a couple of repeat visits, she is diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Instead of burying her head and ignoring the symptoms, she decides to consult with the diabetes education team and enroll in some of their workshops.

A few months pass and her health care providers are noticing significant improvements in her health. Her blood sugar is under control and she’s down ten pounds, an accomplishment she can directly attribute to eating healthier and regular exercise. She even quit smoking.

Six months later Janet is down another ten pounds and feeling much better about her health, but her stress levels are creeping up and the temptation to smoke is harder to ignore.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Janet is doing all the right things. She’s made significant behavioural changes, everything from healthy eating, exercise and quitting smoking. She should be proud of herself. And she is, but there’s no program, workshop or lifestyle change that will help her with what she needs most to live a healthy, prosperous life: a secure income.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Facing Poverty

Last night she broke down and had a cigarette, the seriousness and weight of her situation too much to bear.

With not enough money to buy groceries, Janet visits the food bank for the first time in her life. The volunteers she encountered were kind, but the experience no less humiliating.

Now into the throes of poverty, Janet is on an affordable housing wait list, but expects it will be at least three years before she gets a call. This may be the first time she has experienced poverty, but the consequences are no less dire.

Even though she participated in programs and made lifestyle changes that have improved her health, until she has affordable housing and enough money to eat healthy and meet her basic needs, these lifestyle changes will not put her on even ground with others who are income secure.

Now that Janet is living in poverty she is at greater risk of developing other chronic diseases. She is also at greater risk of dying from related complications.

Income Determining Health

Income is the most profound determinant of health. For every rung you move up the income ladder, the better your health. Many health care providers understand it and more politicians are starting to realise it.

The average life expectancy for a woman living in Canada is 81 years, but not everyone benefits equally.

Extreme levels of inequity play out in catastrophic ways, including life expectancy.

According to the Code Red series that ran in the Hamilton Spectator a few years ago the difference in life expectancy was 21 years between the best and worst neighbourhoods.

Not only does poverty strip years from your life, it denies you of your potential.

Poverty casts a dark ominous cloud on people’s lives.

No one chooses to live in poverty, and escaping poverty is not about making better choices.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong. That firmly held neoliberal belief that if you just got your act together, found some discipline or made better choices you could be on the road to success.

People easily forget or perhaps have never realised their success is more than the sum of their decisions. Often it’s the family we are born into, the person we married, our skin colour, the language we speak, or simply, we were not the one to get the job.

It’s not uncommon to hear people remark on how someone living in poverty can afford to smoke or drink. But when you have little to look forward to in your life, sometimes a cigarette or a drink, as unhealthy as they are, offers a temporary escape, even if it’s just in your head.

It’s harder to give up an addiction when you are living in poverty. The daily doses of toxic stress that poverty readily delivers wreaks havoc with a person’s brain. In fact, living in poverty actually depletes a person’s will power.

Poverty restricts choices. It’s repeatedly having to say no or being unable to access things other people take for granted. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that once a person’s willpower reserve is depleted a cigarette becomes an irresistible temptation that brings a rush of dopamine and an accompanying sense of satisfaction and relief, albeit temporary.

The Cure

The good news is that there is a social vaccine that will prevent poverty and combat income security. It’s called a basic income guarantee.

Ontario is launching a pilot next spring. It’s a step in the right direction. But we need to work together to make sure the pilot becomes a national program that benefits all people living in poverty. And we need to make sure that it is done in a way that ensures people are better off.

Some people say we cannot afford it. The truth is, we cannot afford not to.

Others think it’s a recipe for laziness. Existing evidence says otherwise.

A basic income will prevent poverty and combat income insecurity. It will put people on solid ground that leads to improved health.

Incomes security sets a stable foundation that allows people to be creative, innovative and engage in entrepreneurship. These success will increase money flows into local economies. These things in turn will reduce social spending in other high ticket areas like health care and the justice system.

Yes a basic income will come with additional costs, but the social return on investment will transform lives and communities. In the end we will save money, and more importantly, we will save lives.