Why Does Poverty Carry So Much Shame?


One of the unexpected bonuses of having my book published is that lots of readers have been getting in touch with me. I especially love it when someone not only reaches out to share their reaction to my book, but to also share a bit of their own story.

As a working journalist for the past 20 plus years, I already know that every person, no matter who they are, have their own stories to tell. I’ve met and interviewed a lot of fascinating people over the past 20 years, people with stories more interesting, more tragic, more touching, and much more important than any of my own will ever be.

And I remember them all.

Everyone has a history; everyone has a story. And I’m touched by those who take the time to not only offer me feedback on ‘my’ story: “With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood,” but to also share some of the most intimate and private stories from their own childhoods.

Many readers have shared stories of incredible hardships, including early years filled with poverty and for some, growing up with the pain and shame of sexual and physical abuse. Many start off by writing, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…” then go on to tell a story about some terrible secret or challenge they were forced to endure as a child, but have kept hidden for years. Sometimes even decades.

Many of these people aren’t even from Point St. Charles, the Montreal neighbourhood I wrote about in my book. Of course, that didn’t surprise me. Poverty isn’t unique to my old neighbourhood. Nor is it unique to that time in Canadian history, back in the late 60s and early 70s. Poverty continues to cripple millions of Canadians- the majority of which are children- across the country today.

It’s easier to believe that where I grew up was some sort of an anomaly. A rare event in our country’s history. It’s also easier to believe that physically and sexually abused women and children only live in those ‘tough’ parts of Canada, those really rough neighbourhoods with high unemployment and welfare rates.

But that’s a lie.

Women and children are sexually and physically abused in all social classes.  And Canadians of both genders and of all ages continue to live in poverty across the country today.  According to a study conducted last year by Angus Reid, one in 11 Canadians live in poverty. That’s three million Canadians.

The rough and tough neighbourhood I grew up in during the 60s and 70s was not the enemy. Poverty is. That, and the common misconception that poverty is somehow a choice.