KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Many people who live the lives of poverty and social isolation wished that there was a service available in their community that could hook them up with somebody at those times they could really use a friend.
I have written a lot about friendship and poverty, this one is a good example: Downright difficult – Kendall Worth on friendships ending. That story explains why it is difficult for people living in poverty to keep good friendships.
Some social assistance recipients who saw this story came to me and suggested I should do a follow-up story about how important it is to have friends and social contacts, if only for health reasons. They told me that they are tired of living their living their lives socially isolated.
This is what they told me:
“Kendall, we may be poor and we do live our lives with the bureaucratic nonsense and systematic problems of the Department of Community Services, but we understand the importance of having social contacts and friends in our lives.”
“Also Kendall, when we say this, we mean we want to find a way to make social contacts and friendships outside of our social networks of attending soup kitchens and drop-ins. We have nothing in common with those people except those places where we meet.”
I have talked to people living in poverty who say they want to have friends who are like minded, who encourage them in life, and who can help them in tough situations.
People they can talk with about simple things like how is your week going, how is your health, wanting to get off income assistance, etc.
People tell me, “Kendall, because we have no friends we feel discouraged from wanting to move ahead in life. This is the exact reason as to why some of us social assistance clients are not doing things like going back to school, thinking about getting a job, etc.”
Then during this interview with this group of recipients something else they mentioned brought me as the writer of this story to tears.
They actually told me during the interview “Kendall it is because we do not have these type of friends in our personal lives is the reason as to why we are not attending regular meetings of Benefits Reform Action Group. It is all about feeling too discouraged in life to advocate to improve our situation.”
A friend told me about a project in Ontario that does something about this that by letting people who live in poverty make new friends: Doctors’s orders: “Social prescriptions” have been shown to increase health.
That article illustrates the importance of having social contacts, and it even talks about how a doctor orders people to have social contacts for health reasons!
We definitely need something like this in Nova Scotia!
Let’s have a look at the various reasons as to why we all need to have like minded friends and social contacts in our lives.
- Friends are able to drive vehicles and can do us favours like give us a lift home from the grocery store when the amount of groceries is too much to walk home or bring home on the bus.
- As I talked about in past stories in the Advocate, when social assistance recipients need to arrange for a ride home from surgery due to doctor orders, our friend could be our ride home from day surgery.
- A friend to get together with once a week for coffee and talk about simple things, like how is you week going, etc.
- Someone who can encourage them to do things like go back to school and get a job, etc
The four things I just listed above are just some examples. But say if a program did exist where you could get hooked up with like minded social contacts, then there would also have to be policies outlining the differences between appropriate use and inappropriate use of this program.
Two major examples of inappropriate use of a program would include:
- Using the friend as a drinking buddy to drink alcohol with and/or to go out and get drunk with.
- Using this program as a dating service. Who you get hooked up with through this program can strictly be for friendship only
Social assistance recipients who I talked to about the need for this program have even suggested to me that volunteering to work in this type of program would be great work experience for university students.
I do agree that it is a great idea.
Kendall Worth is a tireless anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.
If you can, please support the Nova Scotia Advocate so that it can continue to cover issues such as poverty, racism, exclusion, workers’ rights and the environment in Nova Scotia.