We’ve been thinking a lot about illnesses and symptoms. How can we not when we don’t go a single day without thinking about COVID-19? One thing we’ve recognized over the last year is that COVID-19 isn’t the only illness plaguing Niagara. Poverty is a huge factor that influences our Region’s general health and we’re seeing the symptoms of poverty only getting worse. Today, we’re framing homelessness and other impacts of poverty in terms that we have all become accustomed to in 2020. Homelessness isn’t the issue; poverty is the root of our Region’s illness.
Symptom of Poverty #1: Homelessness
We know that women and families don’t suddenly become homeless for no reason. There is one key factor around homelessness that we address through our advocacy – women’s poverty. Of all the reasons someone might find themselves homeless (ie. inability to afford rent/mortgage), it all boils down to poverty. When women and families are unable to find affordable childcare that allows them to get an education or maintain stable employment, or must work in precarious fields due to insufficient wages, women continue to be trapped in the cycle of poverty. Quickly, entire families find themselves homeless because due to the lack of systems in place that allow women to lift their families out of poverty.
Putting families into stable housing is a priority for us because we know that it’s necessary for them to get back on their feet in all areas of life. But, one thing we know is that recurring homelessness is not uncommon because these women and families continue to be trapped in poverty. If we address the ways we oppress families into poverty, solutions to homelessness will follow with ease.
Symptom of Poverty #2: Health issues
Healthy lifestyles are expensive. When forced between housing and healthy food, many families are forced to choose the roof over their head instead of fresh fruits and vegetables. A box of macaroni and cheese for $0.99 or a package of instant noodles for even less will fill you up, but how long and how well does it actually sustain you? We know families in poverty are not meeting their nutritional needs and often end up teaching unhealthy cooking to their children. Extended periods of time with unhealthy eating practices beyond many people’s control create long-term health issues that weigh heavily on individuals and our healthcare system.
Unaddressed illnesses due to a lack of paid sick days are also a barrier for women and families experiencing poverty. When a single missed shift results in missed rent or no groceries for the week, people simply cannot afford to miss a day (or more) of work for doctor’s appointments, medical testing, or hospital stays. As a result, unmediated illnesses progress putting people’s health at even further risk.
Symptom of Poverty 3: Stress and mental health
It’s hard to express the kind of stress someone experiences when they find themselves homeless. It is impossible to understand if you have never experienced it. This stress only heightened pre-existing mental health issues that 25%-50% of Canada’s homeless population experiences. Stressors around education, employment, and housing (and the lack of stability of those three things) can increase the risk factors for mental illness or relapse. Challenges around addiction and accessing the support needed for people experiencing poverty just further perpetuates the cycle. Mental illness will not be completely solved through the eradication of poverty, but reducing the factors that contribute to mental illness and creating accessible resources for mental health management can significantly reduce the barriers for women and families to lift their families from poverty permanently.
When we frame these elements of symptoms on a greater issue, it is easier to identify the root of the cause and therefore an effective solution. It also helps us to reduce the stigma around homelessness, physical health, and mental health. We’ve learned the ins and outs of COVID symptoms and what to do if we get sick with the Corona virus. Now, we need to address the symptoms of poverty and find a treatment that doesn’t just mediate the symptoms but addresses the root of our illness. Only then will Niagara truly become healthy again.