But what people in general society do not see when it comes to the term “Paid Poverty Advocate” is the expertise that someone like myself, who has the lived experience of living in poverty, dealing with poverty and knowing the poverty community in my day to day life, actually has.
So my question is:
How can I get my own expertise and understanding of the poverty experience to count as credible, employable, experience? What if I were interested in becoming a paid poverty advocate, with lived experienced? Should I even dream of getting such a job?
Employers such as hospitals, medical clinics, and programs and agencies for persons with disabilities – the types of employers who hire people to do poverty advocacy work – look fairly narrowly at credentials. In my experience, they look at whether or not the person applying for the job has a social sciences or sociology degree from a university, as well as work experience.
For someone like myself, I doubt that an employer is even going to take my lived experience into consideration when they make their decision on hiring. The employer does not care that one person applying for the job could have learning disabilities that could prevent them from getting such university degrees.
So, right here is why I would have to run a poverty advocacy office as a start-up business of my own in order to personally to do that type of work.
Now, if I actually wanted to make a living at poverty advocacy – without a degree in either social sciences or sociology – the only other work available for folks without the above credentials is volunteer work. Volunteer work is great, and keeps many organizations afloat, but what about getting an actual job?
Some examples of these volunteer positions to which I am referring include; Being a member of Community Advocacy Network; Being a member of a benefits reform group; Being a member of ACORN; volunteering at a food bank; volunteering at a soup kitchen or a drop-in for people living in poverty; volunteering at a homeless shelter; or volunteering at the Salvation Army.
If you have the time to volunteer with these organizations, on top of working, that’s great. But for someone with the lived poverty experience, what am I to do?
My personal lived experience is something that the type of professionals with social sciences and sociology degrees probably do not have. Believe me, I’d like to go to university, but if I fail every test and exam, (even after studying for them), the professor is not going to allow me to pass the course. As part of my learning disability, studying for tests and exams – and still failing – is one of the exact problems I had back when I was in the regular school system. Also, because of my impulse control disorder I may not be able to handle the stress of all that studying for a university degree. For that reason special study accommodations will need to be arranged for me.
But despite my learning disability and my having impulse control disorder, I still feel I have unique knowledge and skills, and know what it takes to be a paid advocate to help people living in poverty.
Let me tell you why:
I have at least 10 years of lived experience myself, with being on a low income and knowing the poverty community in Halifax. I have learned from my personal experience that different people are living in poverty for different reasons. Low income assistance rates is probably the biggest reason as to why we have local poverty here in Halifax, but that only applies once you get here, to the poverty level.
Other major factors which come into play when you think about local poverty right here in Halifax are those who are on Canadian Pension Plan disability and the poor, indebted, students who attend our local colleges and universities. I see these folks and more using food banks, soup kitchens, and drop-ins, on a regular basis, just the same as the Income Assistance clients.
Personally, I’ve found over the years, by attending these drop-ins centres, that so many of the people using these services would rather be out of the poverty cycle, working. In many cases though, there simply aren’t the services available to give them the information they could use.
That’s where my dream job comes in.
But how can I even get a business plan prepared for myself?
A business has to make money and people living in poverty cannot afford to pay someone to help them to make their lives better. In drawing up a business plan, you have to think of writing a business plan that comes from the heart for talking about this type of business.
I can’t just go into a bank and say: ‘Hi, I’d like to get some funding to create an office to help people get out of poverty. And no, I don’t expect to turn a profit. Ever.’
Unlike going after funding for a regular business, the business of having an office where people living in poverty can come and get help is almost a guaranteed risk. With this type of business, a person cannot make money to pay back a business loan. Going to the bank for a loan is not an option. My poverty advocacy office would pretty much have to rely on private donations from the community, as well as charitable donations.
So, if you’re out there, and you’re a charity, here’s what my dream job description would be:
First, I’d like to set up meetings with people who are on income assistance, to understand exactly the services that are missing to help them escape from the poverty cycle. I would not be limited to meeting with Income Assistance clients. Considering that people on CPP disability, the working poor, and even the poor students who attend our local colleges and universities also make up the local population of people living in poverty, for starters – I would be meeting them to understand the bigger picture.
I’ll need an office, where people can come and meet with me to talk about their issues and what they need help with. I see the big challenges as being related to helping folks find affordable housing for those who are homeless. For those who need meals, I’d refer them to soup kitchens and drop-ins, which I’ve talked about previously here.
I’ll also plan and organize networking events where both the Poverty Community and the Business Community can come together. I’ve also talked about this idea previously, here.
I also think I’m well-situated to do this kind of work, because of the fact that I have lived this experience for years. In my day to day life of knowing the poverty community, I’ve found that a lot of the people who I have met in the poverty community are not ready to get back to work, as in paid employment. They need to go to someone for one-on-one counselling to talk about issues of different kinds which they have experienced in their lives, and to get help dealing with them.
Some of the people I meet in my day to day life tell me they are scared to approach the mental health system because they do not want to go on medication for depression and anxiety. What I would like to see is a mentorship program developed for these people.
For this to happen, I would need funding to hire more staff that have expertise in this field. Some of the people living in poverty personally tell me they do not feel comfortable approaching professionals, in a professional setting, because of abuse which has happened to them in their life times. That’s where my services would be useful.
Next, once we gather this information, I plan on setting up a huge case to rally for change to the employment support and income assistance policies and regulations in Nova Scotia. We’ll plan political action, lobbying and rallies to get changes made to Income Assistance. People in poverty will be heard.
From experience, once you find yourself in the poverty cycle, these policies and regulations don’t even allow you the dignity the try and get yourself out. Once you’re here, you’re stuck. And that needs to change.
Finally, we’ll prepare a legal case showing exactly this. We’ll walk into a court room and get these policies and regulations changed. I know from experience, from taking my own case to the supreme court, that this will be easier said than done. But it has to be done.
I know that there are other organizations and agencies that are doing similar types of work within the Halifax Regional Municipality. However, I would say that they have one main primary focus, which is to find employment for persons with disabilities. Some agency needs to exist to look at other areas of poverty as well.
So, interested in helping me get this off the ground?
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