One of my favourite personal finance bloggers, Money Relations, posted an interesting comment about foodbanks, and poverty. I responded with some of my perspectives, living in gastown (adjacent to downtown eastside, Canada’s poorest neighbourhood) and having done a few money 101 seminars for people on income assistance. Mariam in turn replied with her experience. It’s incredibly inspiring! Here it is:
Thanks for your perspective. I do not have your experience with working with the disadvantaged. Here’s what I know from my experience.
Like I said, I’m an immigrant so I know a lot of other immigrants who worked their way up. A friend of mine as a kid used to live in one small room along with his parents and another brother. I didn’t explore it that much with him as I didn’t want to embarrass him but from what I learned, they had a chamber pot in that room.
After school, he used to go help his mom who was a cleaning lady at a hotel finish up (she was always slow). After that, he used to come home to cook dinner.
Both he and his brother now make over 6 figures.
Compare this to my programmer friend who I had mentioned earlier before. He grew up in the projects of Toronto and he always said his mother had no money management skills. He said that one time after her social assistance cheque came through, she bought curtains instead of buying groceries. Obviously, he was pissed. I don’t know if she had psychological issues but he always described her as an unfit mother.
Then again, he also said that he used to play “Olympics” at home and would use broom handles to throw as a javelin into the wall… so it was just pure chaos.
Another less fortunate friend also said that as a kid, she would break her glasses because she didn’t like them so her parents would have to buy her a new pair.
I am absolutely appalled by this behavior as I would NEVER burden my mom unnecessarily. Instead of helping out, two of my friends chose to be destructive. I can turn this into “when I was young” stories but seriously, with my paper route at 12 (I might have started younger with flyers), I bought my own clothes, bike, glasses, bus passes. My brothers and I did what we could to help out. My mom left early in the morning (6 am and came home late at night 10 pm). No one ever babysat us (my brothers are 4 and 5 years older than me). The first friend I described also had the same self-reliance.
If you ask my mom, I’m positive she will say she can live on $150/mo.
My point is that it takes effort on everyone’s part. If you’re a kid, then you BETTER mature fast. It’s about how much you can endure and what your expectations are. We didn’t expect much. This means no new curtains and air conditioner (as reported by said social worker). Should we have lived that way as a kid? Probably not, but it built character.
Granted, I come from a family with no issues. However, as plonkee mentioned, even with high paid individuals, you get into debt issues. Is it that hard to imagine lower income families won’t have money management issues as well? You describe the extreme cases, I describe the abusers and those are the ones I have fault with.
I swear, Canada is a land of opportunity.