Thursday, 14 November 2019

Brenda Thompson, author of the excellent “A Wholesome Horror, Poor Houses of Nova Scotia”, was sent a bit of on an oral history account of the life of an entire family forced into a Nova Scotia poor house sometime before World War II. “He said he never knew nothing about his family as he was taken away from his parents and siblings at such a young age. He thought he was all alone.”

“These stories are true.” Brenda Thompson introduces five people who lived between the early 1800s and today. “Their hardships were not their fault, yet they were punished for being different or for merely being poor. When it comes to people in poverty, our minds remain shut. Our attitudes and policies are still stuck in the 1860s, Brenda writes

Brenda’s piece was produced in partnership with the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, for co-publication in Connections, published three times a year by the College. We really appreciate this wonderful opportunity to promote longer pieces by Nova Scotia authors on topics so dear to our heart.

Brenda Thompson, author of Poor houses of Nova Scotia, on the only poor house in the province that segregated its residents based on the colour of their skins. Other poor houses did not allow the sexes to mix but allowed African-Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq to live under one roof with white people. Not in Bridgetown though.

Picture yourself as a poor person, 125 years ago in Nova Scotia. Brenda Thompson, author of a wonderful book on poor houses in Nova Scotia, on what it would take to be accepted in a poor house, a place so horrible it would always be your last resort.

While researching her new book on poor houses in Nova Scotia Brenda Thompson doesn’t let a couple of No Trespassing signs slow her down. “I’ll admit, I was so excited by the idea of getting closer to the cemetery that I took off running, leaving my husband and shoes behind. I climbed over three fences and ran barefoot across the field to get closer to the graves of the poor house inmates.”

Poverty activist and frequent contributor Brenda Thompson writes about adults only buildings and the law. She was one of the activists who, in the early 1980s, brought about changes that make discrimination based on source of income (welfare) and age (whether you have children) illegal. Landlords openly break that law all the time, and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission just sits back.

As the stories of Donna and Leslie show, when you are on social assistance your caseworker makes all the difference. It’s very hard when your caseworker is not there for you, writes long time poverty advocate Brenda Thompson. “Just as caseworkers evaluate their clients on an annual basis, clients also must be permitted to evaluate their caseworkers on a regular  basis on criteria such as as their treatment of the clients, their knowledge of resources, and their willingness to be true advocates and go to bat for their client.”

In Nova Scotia, when you apply for social assistance you had better have some money set aside, because this is going to cost you. It’s a logistical nightmare as well. Brenda Thompson takes a close look at all that is required, and she does the math. Remember, people who apply for social assistance tend to be broke. That’s why they are applying….