In Cap-de-la-Madeleine, not a mile from my home, a young man died last week, consumed by the bitter coldness of poverty. Hydro-Quebec shut off his electricity for non-payment and he was asphyxiated by the propane barbeque with which he had tried to warm himself.
The St. Maurice region of Quebec (which includes Trois Riviers and the “Cap”) was one the pulp-and paper capital of the world. Today the mills are mostly closed, and Trois Riviers has become the unemployment capital of Canada. The poor are hidden here unless you seek them out. It is extremely rare to see a street person. People simply suffer, and even die, in attractive 12 unit apartment buildings, identical to the one I lived in when I was first married
In the larger cities of Canada, and throughout the United States, the plight of the poor has drawn has increased attention over the last decade. To a large extent, however, the issues surrounding homelessness and poverty have been politicized by advocates, causing distortion and confusion in the public’s understanding of the problem.
In a recent published book, Rude Awakenings, Richard W.
White Jr. examines homelessness in America. His findings, although not universally applicable in Canada, should be of interest to anyone concerned with the marginalization of our fellow citizens and the deterioration of the family and the community.
Advocates for the homeless have resorted to “lying for justice.” Claims White, by exaggerating the number of homeless people by about ten-fold.
Although no less deserving of our concern, the vast majority of homeless people. White
points out, are drug and alcohol addicts and people with severe mental illness. Estimates suggest that perhaps one third of homeless people have serious mental illness, such as untreated schizophrenia. At least one third, (some estimate nearly seventy percent,) have substance-abuse problems. It is necessary, he argues, to define accurately who are the homeless are so that efforts to solve the problem can be properly directed.
The problem of homelessness, it turns out, is not lack of a home, or lack of a job. Homeless people are marginalized in our society: they are disconnected. For example, in the winter of 1988, the city of Los Angeles set up a tent city for homeless people and provided all support services in nearby trailers. People were cleaned up, dressed, transported to interviews and otherwise helped to find employment. But within days, they were back on the street.
“The main problem was that they had lost their connection to a caring human network of friends and relatives. Without such a network, they would not stick to a job, and would soon lose whatever housing they had gained.”
The collapse of the traditional family, exacerbated among the poor by welfare policies, leads to the problems by which lead to poverty and homelessness. The important lessons in life are learned at home. For the poor, their work is often made more difficult by problems in the community
“Where low status families try in the face of serious odds to communicate values to their children are inadequately socialized people doing in the neighbourhood and at school but by permissive policies imposed by judges and administrators who espouse attitudes current in the larger society.”
Families provide motivation for working hard and sense of responsibility. When hardship strikes, the extended family usually provides a safety net to support an individual or family through short-term crisis. When the family is weakened, however, whether through divorce, drugs, or whatever, people are more likely to fall through the cracks.
When the concept of pro-life as a “seam-less garment” was first discussed. By the Anglican Catholic Bishops, some people were upset that the fight for the lives of the unborn was lumped together with seemingly less urgent social justice issues .Yet, the roots of homelessness and poverty are similar in the underlying causes, of abortion: the weakening of family and community, isolation, and the unwillingness to accept personal responsibility.
The seamless garment is made up of society’s moral fibre. When that is repaired, all marginalized people will benefit, whether born or unborn, housed or homeless, rich or poor.