There are a lot of workshops at this year’s Linking for Healthy Communities conference that I was excited about. But I think the one I was looking forward to most was Jason Hartwick and Gillian Kranias’ workshop Working with the Priorities of People Living in Poverty. The workshop provided a lot of open space for us to reflect on our own work and experiences, for us to discuss the values and principles of community development work, and for us to hear about Jason’s work and experiences (which frankly, I could have listened to all day). What I loved the most about the workshop was the opportunity to reflect on my own experiences and what I've personally learned.
One of the key messages from the workshop was about the assumptions and biases made about people who live in poverty. Societal reaction to those living in poverty is that “they” are handed everything that they need (eg social assistance), that they are responsible for their own conditions, and that they should “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”. But, as Josephine Gray says, “they” do not have boots. The reality is much more complex.
People who live in poverty are often treated as if they have no value: the only thing expected of them is to live on social assistance and accomplish nothing. One workshop participant recommends using as asset-based approach: to recognize that communities have something inherently good and precious about them. Jason talked about the importance of pride, that communities who live in poverty rarely feel like they have something to be proud of.
Another take-away for me is how those of us who work in agencies come to the work with the agendas of our agencies: our mandates, our visions, our programs, our timelines. It’s important to keep those agendas slightly behind us (rather than pushing them in front of us) and use an open approach with communities. Rather than walking in and talking about he wonderful program that we have, we need to take the time to ask: what do you need? What do you want? Jason says communities do not have to own the problem, but they can be a part of creating the solutions.