First, to all my international friends, yes, we do have ghetto's in Canada. Just ask any Whalley resident out in Surrey, or indigenous First Nations child living in Northern Ontario or Manitoba, Or take a stroll down East Hastings Street in Vancouver and you will get a good idea of just how desperate people can be in Canada.
I have never experienced the desperation of Pender and Hasting type poverty, but both of my children started their lives in the ghettos of Surrey, After a short reprieve during their formative years, we all three returned during the final years of my undergraduate education.
Back in those years it often felt like we were fighting for our very lives there and it was hard to stay focused on the end goal. Both of my children returned to the Surrey ghettos as young adults, even as I returned in my early 50s.
There are many experiences and lessons that I have learned as a result of my time in the Surrey ghettos--some good, some unintentional. I have tried to distill it down to 10 key lessons that have had the most impact on my life and they way that I view the world. These are listed here in no particular order of priority:
1. Not everyone who lives in the ghetto lives poorly. Of those that do, well, bad things can happen to good people too. Not everyone who lives in the ghetto deserves to be there. Lots of people do seem to thrive there: street hustlers, junkies, hookers, small minded , people that want to hide. However, there are also working people who are simply unable to earn enough money to live anywhere else. That said, many of these people are also the transients, from new immigrants and students to druggies and thieves making a pit stop for whatever reason.
2. People are more desperate and do more crazy things to survive. Almost everyone you meet in the ghetto is just one short step from homelessness. Every week or so you see someone's entire belongings strewn across a trail, pathway, back alley or street. People will break a car window for a Toonie or even a Loonie. People do a lot more damage for a lot less in the ghetto.
3. That excess is as much an issue in the ghetto of western countries as anywhere else in the western world. When you are in the ghetto you can't help but notice the number of obese people is higher. Excess is everywhere. I am not talking about excess in terms of good nutrition. I am talking about excess of calories, empty sugar calories. Excess in the form of more drugs, more excess drinking, more obesity, more crime, more violence against the vulnerable, more, more, more. I often felt guilty for indulging in the excess sugar myself. It is quite a bit more difficult to eat less and better foods when you live in the ghetto.
4. It's not so terrible to way until next payday. I can't stress this one enough. I ended up in the ghetto the last time of my life mostly due to the fact that people in my life couldn't exercise the patience to wait until we had earned and saved the money needed to do the things we wanted to do in our lives. Play now pay later doesn't work. If you work hard and earn a decent living, next payday is only a week or two away.
5. Post Code Envy is a real thing. Institutions and businesses treat you like you are "less" worthy than everyone "not in the ghett0." They spend a significant amount of money profiling demographics around postal codes and zip codes. People with little or no money, and few options are typically attractive to predatory type businesses.
6. It's isolating. Friends and family avoid coming to your house because they worry about their cars getting broken into while they are visiting. OR they worry about picking up some bugs from sitting on your furniture. Not only that, it isn't exactly someplace you are proud to invite friends and family over to.
7. Bad habits follow you out of the ghetto. If you are a smoker, you won't just quit because you have a new postal code. Likewise if you are dishonest, distrustful of others, that doesn't just get left behind. I think for those of us that do make it out, we don't change overnight to be people who have never felt the pain of life there or the bad habits that pushed us there, or even the ones we developed while we are there. it takes many years of both conscious and unconscious effort like any other positive behavioral change.
8. Not everyone is trying to get out. Living in the ghetto doesn't always feels as bad as it looks from the outside. I met many people, particularly this last time, that have made good honest lives for themselves living in the ghetto. People who have no desire to leave, are humbly satisfied with their lives, and who make it a more tolerable place. As one woman explained to me, "my children get what I can afford to provide. I can't feel bad because it isn't a big fancy house." For those people in particular, I am thankful.
9. The Freaks Come Out at Night. While the "ghetto" is one of the most colorful places for people watching that I ever lived. People watching needs to be enjoyed from the safety behind a dark window on the second floor. I don't exaggerate when it is say best never to go outside at night in the ghetto. This is when people are most at risk of being hurt there. It could be a working woman trying to protect her income and place of business from perceived competition, to a opportunist preying on the vulnerable, to some erratic person flipping out on fentanyl. People of the ghetto, in fact everything about the ghetto just seem more intense and amplified in the evening.
10. Getting out is very hard, some do, many don't. For those that do, it can cost almost everything you have and hold dear. Not only do people exiting the ghetto have to bare all the regular costs of living in more costly housing (especially in places like British Columbia), but almost everything must be left behind when you leave or you bring the bugs and filth with you. And trust me, no new or neighbors will thank you for bringing hitch hikers with you. When I made what I hope to be my last exit, I was happy to leave the roaches, ants, and bed bugs behind, but I was also highly vigilant not to bring them with me.
Everything thing else aside, I think being so close to having nothing, really made me learn to be thankful for what I have.
BA Hubert lives in Vancouver British Columbia, a long time writer wanna be with the metal boxes of unfinished manuscripts and the rejection letters to prove it.