How can you be so poor with so much money?

I often travel through the Downtown Eastside (DTES) with my child.

If you don’t know, Vancouver’s DTES is regarded as one of North America’s “worst” neighbourhoods, if “worst” is defined by poverty, drug use/abuse, homelessness, urban decay and petty crime. Yet for all the negative impressions, it’s simply a colourful, dynamic urban neighbourhood that is safe, as long as you use some common sense.

We don’t avoid the neighbourhood when we have to travel through it, and there are a few great shops and eateries that are worth the trek. It’s also a healthy dose of reality.

  • We learn that even at their least fortunate moments, people can be incredibly kind.
  • We learn that mental health is not a joke. People who struggle with mental health issues face deep demons just to survive every day.
  • We learn that everyone—absolutely everyone—once had a family, but sometimes their support systems break down.
  • We learn that no one can be judged simply by the way they look.
  • We learn that dependency on drugs destroys people and their dreams; and no one wanted their dreams destroyed.
  • We learn that life doesn’t always go the way you planned. Support, flexibility, ethics and compassion are tools of survival for everyone. Dignity is fragile.
  • We learn we are fortunate, no matter how much yesterday might have sucked.

I hate sympathy television. The latest show in this genre—Secret Millionaire—features people who give back after becoming rich (if “rich” is simply defined as having access to more money than the average person). I would argue they aren’t rich. The families featured seem to have been separated from normal society, and each of them is “shocked” to discover the world of poverty and charity going on right under their noses.

I don’t know how much money ones needs to ignore poverty so much that the reality is actually erased from your mind. I don’t know how shallow a person has to be to forget about people who are less fortunate, as if they simply don’t exists. I don’t know how disconnected you have to be to miss all the charity and compassion that exists just to make people’s lives a little better.

I don’t know how much money you need to have—just to be so poor.

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