When living and dying are beyond your means
The headline in the Star declared that funeral directors can no longer afford to bury the poor on what the city gives them. They will have to cut back on some of the extras, if they are not given sufficient funds. Not even death releases people from poverty and cutbacks and indignities, large and small.
Poverty is not high on the agenda in this campaign, but the future and ambitions of those marginalized men and women, the ones who form dispirited and straggly lines outside food banks, the ones lined up again for a space in overnight shelters, the ones living in concrete towers that sap the life out of them, their fate hinges on who leads the city after the election.
Though Rob Ford would likely not be aware of this, limited as he is to fiscal restraint and voting no as often as a Republican congressman, there has been great movement toward re-vamping the way the city delivers social assistance, a move away from the Harris years where interrogation and humiliation defined the experience of asking for help, to active engagement with clients, positive interventions and real assistance with work searches or re-training.
Morale is up among the staff, there is a renewed effort to listen to the voices of lived experience, to improve that fundamental relationship with the caseworker so that clients feel empowered, heard, and helped instead of policed and slammed for their need. There is no doubt that time spent with the worker can make or break a person, a person who desperately wants to be seen as an individual, as worthy of the investment the city makes in him or her.
Last year, I spoke to 1,800 caseworkers about that relationship with their clients, as a former recipient, as an activist, and was heartened by their response, which was overwhelmingly positive. No one gets up in the morning rubbing their hands with glee over yet another opportunity to stomp on someone's soul. We all prefer to find job satisfaction in helping, not hurting. Under the mean-spirited OW rules, under the regime of Harris and a mayor who had real difficulty seeing homeless people, never mind helping them, good people became bad cops. With David Miller, people breathed again, felt freer to be themselves, to do right by those in front of them.
All these advances can so easily be lost, reversed, tanked. The man at the helm sets the tone, people fearful of losing their own jobs, of finding themselves on the other side of the desk, will line up to do his bidding.
Lines around shelters and food banks will lengthen, more people will bed down on pavement, even more will lose hope that life will ever get better. And when they die, earlier and earlier as poverty diets and chronic illnesses increase their toll, we will begrudgingly bury them.
Or we can continue our progressive march to ensure we waste no human potential, we abandon no one to the streets, we elevate our fellow citizens rather than excoriate them.
A lot depends on how you cast your vote.