A few years ago I wrote an article entitled Welfare Weekend. I opened a real can of worms,of all the articles I had written it received by far the most readership. I wrote the articles as the result of a trip I had made to the Joshua Group on Sandy Point Rd.
It was Saturday and there were very few kids around. I asked Bobby Hayes; “Where are all the kids”? Bobby reply was that Friday, the day before was “cheque” day. In the article I had asked Bobby how much of the cheque went for the three “B’s” – booze, Bingo and butts?. And how much went for food and clothes? It seemed to me to be a logical question since the Joshua Group provides clothes for and feeds at least 100 kids every week.
After I posted the article the shit really hit the fan. One side offered: “finally someone is talking about Saint john’s dirty little secret” while the other side came back with “how dare you point a finger at “those people” and the decades old debate was on.
Therein lies the root of our problem. Some years ago I had one person who works in the field of poverty reduction tell me during a discussion about welfare and poverty; “We can’t expect too much from those people” On the contrary, until we as a society get rid of the expression “those people” and set reasonable expectations in terms of responsibility, accountability and productivity then we can expect 5 more generations of welfare families, whoops that’s not politically correct, I mean social assistance. Sorry folks changing the name might change the perception however it does not change the reality. What is the old expression? “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. Not a new piece of wisdom, why is it taking us so long for the message to take root?
So why have I decided to climbed up on my welfare soapbox again? For two reasons, I spent some time going through the 2014 Report on Saint John Poverty by the Human Development Council and was alarmed at the rate of teenage pregnancies in Saint John.
About the same time l also watched the news where MLA Dorothy Shephard is calling for changes in the Social Assistance Department. “MLA Dorothy Shephard says unfit parents allowed to fail too often”
“Former cabinet minister Dorothy Shephard says New Brunswick children are being damaged by a welfare system that too often sends them back to live with unfit parents who can’t provide the necessities of life. “Why are we allowing parents to fail multiple times?” asked the Opposition MLA for Saint John-Lancaster”.
Do you suppose the high Saint John teenage pregnancy rate has anything to do with young ladies going back to a dysfunctional home and is being hit on by “the boyfriend”? And then possibly decides to get pregnant so that they can get out of a morally and ethically bankrupt home environment? After all Social Services will provide the financial resources for a fresh start in life …right? What are the chances some or most of these young ladies will continue to be caught in the cycle?
Some seven years ago after my daughter had graduated from high school and was heading off to university I asked what ever happened to your girlfriend from up the street, the girl you started school with at Holy Trinity? Since at the time I was writing an article about the importance of role models and education I asked her to put her thoughts and her words on paper, this is what she wrote: “I had the unique experience of growing up in a community where my circumstances were not necessarily common. I went to an elementary school that had free breakfast and lunch programs because most of the kids’ parents didn’t pack them a lunch. I knew cyclical poverty without living it.”
“A friend used to come to my house a lot to play. We rarely went to her house. It was a lot different than mine; her mom was always yelling or crying about one thing or another. The strange thing about childhood though, is that you don’t care about where someone lives or who their parents are or if they have to get a free lunch at school. Childhood is innocence and ignorance and all that I cared about was that she was my friend”.
“She was extremely bright, and always said that she was going to be a teacher one day. I believed in her. “She will never become a teacher; she will never even graduate from high school. Last week, I saw her carting an infant in her arms. There was no joy or hope or even life left in her face; only pain”.
Tell me, in a city with teenage pregnancy two times the national average how many hundreds of times will that story repeat itself before “those people” become us?