Last August I had the privilege of participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event. In the weeks leading up to my choice to sleep in my car, and try to relate better to those experiencing homelessness, I had posted a blog article about how close to the edge of poverty so many of us walk. I considered how many missed pay cheques it would take to go from being seen as a respectable, contributing member of society to someone burdening society’s wallets (which is all too often the perception). At the time, my number was six. I had calculated about three months of unemployment is what I could fare… I have now used up two.
This is it. This is the lesson in relatability I was trying so hard to convey a year ago. The irony that I am now living it is certainly not lost on me. I’m hoping, though, that perhaps by reading this, others will finally understand that the potential for homelessness exists in ALL of our lives. At this moment, I hold three diplomas in three separate fields-Public Relations, Culinary Arts, and Executive Office Administration. I am articulate. I interview well. I come with excellent references. Overall, I am a very employable individual; yet, here I sit, two months into unemployment, staring into that abyss.
My family and friends living in this region live with their own financial insecurity; if need be, we would certainly have a place to sleep, but we would still ultimately be homeless…the hidden homeless.
When my last employment ended- a paid work placement with an expiry date-it never occurred to me to consider applying for Unemployment, that’s how confident I was that I would have a job immediately. Fast-forward 60 days and my back-up plans have now been used. My family and friends living in this region live with their own financial insecurity; if need be, we would certainly have a place to sleep, but we would still ultimately be homeless…the hidden homeless.
As embarrassing as the topic of finances can be, I think we need to talk about it so much more, work harder on de-stigmatizing poverty…and we need to start with ourselves. Yes, us, the ones who subscribe to the YW’s social media, who raise funds, and fight for our personal cause. Those who feel compassion and understanding, and believe we are above judging others. I’ll go first…
I judge people on social assistance.
Had you asked me this question before this week, you would have received an emphatic no, probably followed with a somewhat preachy explanation on how anyone could end up there (see above). But, this Monday I walked into Service Canada to inquire about how I might go about the process, and I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I had allowed myself to get to this position, and afraid that others would think me beneath them as they strolled past the door I was opening. I had a mantra on repeat in my head “this isn’t me; I’m not like this…please see that I’m different…” Guess what? I wasn’t. I wasn’t better than anyone else in that room with me. The two couples in their 50s, the well-dressed woman ahead of me in line, or the polite, slightly desperate-looking man waiting for his cheque. We were all human beings trying to get through a difficult time in our lives.
I learned my lesson. Check those corners of your mind and be honest with yourself. I hope you, whoever you are, will read this and consider not only how many missed cheques you are away from poverty yourself, but also how we can use our own identified misconceptions to make it more relatable to the rest of the world.
We’re all in this together.