Last night I attended a forum in which various local organizations addressed the issue of poverty in Abbotsford. These organizations included – The Salvation Army, Abbotsford Community Services, Warm Zone, and Atangard Community Project – the last of which was embodied by Dan Bryce. Representatives from each of these organizations were part of a panel where they explained the various philosophies and projects that they were involved in.
To be quite honest, as my eyes shifted from left to right, focused on the panel members, I paused to consider the last. What was Dan doing here? A.C.P. seemed to be a little out of place compared to the others who were all on the ‘front line’ fighting poverty on the streets of Abbotsford.
As the night went on, the other three spoke of various ‘grassroots’ initiatives related to housing, education, employment, food and shelter, however, when the floor was open to A.C.P., Dan had seemingly little relevant to say. I couldn’t figure out why Atangard was even up there.
When I came to this forum I was expecting discussion to be centered on a mix of ideological opinion and practical solutions regarding poverty and I couldn’t see where our community fit in. Yet before the evening was over the significance of ‘community’ in the fight against the social and economic issues surrounding poverty became clear.
After the groups were finished introducing themselves and what they do, the forum turned into a discussion between the panel and the audience. It was at this time that I started to notice a common theme that all four organizations shared. This theme was community. It became apparent that ‘community living’ was a shared practical and philosophical solution in dealing with as well as preventing poverty.
Heading into this forum, I failed to recognize the importance of community living as a healthy model to address the social and economic factors that contribute to, and facilitate poverty. In terms of economics, poverty is a problem because not all of us can afford the high costs of living. During conversation, Darla Sparrow had said that someone on a low income or assistance budget might get something like $900 a month and that rent for a one bedroom living space in Abbotsford starts at around $600/month. This leaves an impossible and extremely unrealistic budget of $300 or less for food, transportation, and the various other monthly expenses.
If you already live at Atangard then you know this, but for those who don’t, A.C.P provides not just affordable housing, but an arrangement that allows those who live there to share the costs of food, internet, and transportation. Community living can make it possible for people to not only cut the costs of living, but also to make the cost of living a sustainable figure.
The social issue of ‘isolation’ was said to be a huge hurdle for those trying to get off of the streets. Even if a program provided the monetary resources to get someone into a home (or into a generally better living situation), in order for it to be a lasting solution it would also have to ensure that the individuals were part of a positive and supportive community. If a program failed to offer this community aspect, then any progress made usually ended up being regressive and futile.
Community living, though at times frustrating and full of compromise, provides the emotional and relational support that we all need in order to deal with simple and complex social problems. As well, community living amputates our tendency to marginalize and separate ourselves from the well being of others, an affinity which I believe enables us to carry on lives lacking social consciousness.
This is how I’ve come to understand the importance of community living and its potential as a healthy and practical solution to poverty. However, community living is a unique practice in our part of the world and it will take a lot to catch on.
So, what can we who are currently living at Atangard do? Well we all, to some degree, realize the value of living in community or else we wouldn’t be here. I believe that it will be those who call Atangard home, the people who have already jumped on the community-living band wagon; we will influence those around us, and ultimately the majority, to make an ideological shift to a heightened sense of social consciousness. We should share our experience here in fellowship with others, and perhaps more importantly, continue promoting community living in some way, shape or form above and beyond our time here.
After the forum was over, I left feeling that Dan’s presence on that panel was warranted and justified.
What do you think?