Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Activist Diary: CBC Learn @ Lunch - Poverty and panhandling

Today I attended the CBC Calgary's Learn @ Lunch on "Poverty and panhandling, how well does Calgary cope with its people living on the edge?". The topic is hot in Calgary right now because of city council's endorsement of a new panhandling bylaw - one that will not work.

The event was packed - they had to bring out extra chairs and benches and there were still people standing. What was particularly positive was that there was not one person out of the hundreds there who said anything to put down panhandlers. In fact, all of the discussion accepted that panhandling is a symptom and that what needs to be done is to address the problems that it is a symptom of.

Those problems can be summed up with one word: Poverty.

Some things in our society that are encouraging/sustaining/growing poverty include the immense shortage of affordable housing, the lack of sufficient timely health care for treatment of addiction and other mental health issues, and the extreme lack of political will to take on poverty.

A point I made during the question & comment period was that we have things like the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs" - but those are just targeting symptoms, not problems. What is needed is a 'war on poverty'. Such a 'war' would include 'assaults' on the housing shortage, 'battles' for health care, 'raids' on oppressive services, and much more 'combat' against social structures that sustain and encourage poverty.

It's been said that some people feel threatened by panhandlers. The real threat is poverty.

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