Since its inception, Streams of Justice has given considerable attention to the issue of poverty in the local context. Our approach has not been to organize strategies of temporary relief from hunger or homelessness, but to understand the systemic causes of poverty, analyze the political, economic and social structures that produce poverty, and bring them into public awareness. We wanted to debunk the myths about poverty that attribute it to individual laziness or bad personal decisions, and trace out the roots of poverty in the soil of social policies and legal structures.
SoJ recognizes that poverty is systemic violence; it produces physical harm, increases anxiety and depression, and crushes the human spirit. In the context of considerable wealth, it pushes people to the social and cultural margins with all the attending experiences of shame, stigma and indignity. Inhabiting marginal spaces puts people at greater risk of violence, and this is clearly the case in the Downtown Eastside – the poorest off-reserve urban neighbourhood in the country. For the past 22 years, a DTES committee of women has organized the Women’s Memorial March to commemorate the hundreds of women from this community and elsewhere who have been murdered and/or gone missing. The vast majority of these women were poor, forced to survive in contexts of multiple oppressions and violence. SoJ has regularly supported and participated in this annual march.
Over the years …
We began by connecting with other anti-poverty activists and groups challenging the structures that keep people poor. Raise the Rates Coalition was an important early link. Within the framework of that coalition, we participated in actions and forums, and the Poverty Olympics. With the motto “End Poverty – It’s not a Game,” Raise the Rates organized three annual Poverty Olympics events that drew attention in very creative ways to the reality of poverty that many are forced to endure while millions of dollars are spent on hosting the grand spectacle of wealth and power, the Olympic Games. Raise the Rates has primarily focused on increasing welfare rates, eliminating the barriers to getting on welfare, increasing the minimum wage, and building social housing. The coalition continues to advocate for increased income for people in poverty and SoJ continues to support and participate in its initiatives.
SoJ has also created dramatic presentations on poverty in the midst of wealth; in particular we produced “Trouble in Paradise: Being Poor in a World Class City” that highlighted the criminalization of people living in poverty within the context of Vancouver’s global status of livability. We have also enacted street plays, vigils and public demonstrations to press into public consciousness the political imperative of eliminating poverty. We have hosted many forums on poverty, and produced and distributed leaflets on various dimensions of poverty.