Women’s Perspectives on Poverty
Photovoice blends a participatory approach to photography with social action. Over the past eighteen months, members of the Women and a Fair Income Working Group have met to plan and carry out a project with the goal of advocating for fair incomes for all people in Calgary and Alberta. Women who participated included university and community-based researchers many of whom were women living on low incomes. Over a three-month period, women took photographs to assist in describing and analyzing the impact of living on a low income. Together they reviewed the pictures that they had taken, related the stories behind the images, analyzed their meaning, and created a powerful advocacy tool.
Institute for Gender Research, University of Calgary
Family and Community Support Services, City of Calgary
Working Group Members and Photographers
Pascal Ujouk, Billie Thurston, Cathie Scott, Maggie Pompeo, Pam Parry, Lillian Parent, Donna McPhee, Lisa Lorenzetti, Lynda Laughlin, Beryl Kootenay, Fran…, Joan Farkas, Julie Black.
Very generous providers of knowledge, skills and support
- Kathy Dirk from the Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, for her organizational and technical skills
- Kelly Wingrove as a Social Work Practicuum student at the University of Calgary and City of Calgary
- Pat Vanbeseleare from the City of Calgary for her assistance with meetings
- Colleen Sharpe at the Nickle Arts Museum – for fitting our little project into her busy schedule and assisting with identifying galleries, preparation of the exhibition to gallery ready format and setting the venue for our first presention
- Anthea Black at the Stride Gallery – for her enthusiasm and ongoing support and for her advice on print layout and design
- Martin at Martin’s Custom Picture Framing – for doing all that he did to make the photos look so good
- Calgary Coalition on Family Violence
- Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary
- City of Calgary
This one is me. I’m poor and I’m living in a run-down place and I can’t move… I just can’t seem to get ahead to move out of my run-down place. Broken cupboards, no cupboard doors and the landlord won’t fix it… the ceiling caving in. I’m trying to get out of there…
I sit on the Board of Directors for Calgary Homeless Foundation. See the problem is, they’re building … new AFFORDABLE units, but they’re all one bedroom. I’m looking after my son… He’s diagnosed with schizophrenia. I need more than one room. Hopefully this year they’ll make… some new units someplace else.
It’s so hard to find a landlord that would accept $229 [the rent subsidy].
Lynda: This is how desperate the situation is if you’re living in a Calgary Housing unit and you don’t want to be there anymore… Ah, first of all you have to move for medical reasons. You have to get a certificate from your doctor that says that where you’re living is hurting your health and barring that, let’s say your landlord decides he doesn’t want to do the Calgary Housing thing anymore, they will show you ONE unit and if you don’t like it, you’re on your own. You were on the program and if you don’t like what they show you and you’re not going to move into it, your landlord is going to stop with the subsidies. You pay full rent.
I tried to tell a little story. It turns out I’ve got an eye infection and the eye infection, believe it or not, is caused by malnutrition.
So, my doctor gave me these orders that I have to take all these vitamins and minerals…With a prescription, you don’t have to pay the GST, but it’s still expensive.
This one is a shot of all the vitamins and minerals and prescription drugs I have to take. And let me tell you now it’s a vicious circle, because if you can’t afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables… you sure can’t afford to buy all these supplements. If you can’t afford the food, the vitamins, the minerals… you will have a permanent eye infection.
That’s my fridge. I just have jars and jars and jars of STUFF…. Right up front, that is a turnip that I’m saving ‘til the last minute. That’s, I think, about 2 ½ weeks into the month. Usually after 2 weeks any fresh food is gone. In the crisper there are onions and carrots. Any kind of root vegetable keeps. I’ve got a lot of jars. If you could just make a meal out of what’s in those jars…
And then you learn how to make soup. You open the fridge and there’s nothing in it and you learn how to make a pot of soup out of that. I think poor people are
I was taking a picture of the clouds. The storm stoppers have been stopping the storms all summer and that’s the insurance companies. And they’re stopping hail but in reality they’re stopping rain in this area… big storm clouds and then they disintegrate. That doesn’t happen around here. You see storm clouds – you get them.
I’m a heavy-duty environmentalist and this is one thing that is really bothering me… That affects everything. The food supply, it affects prices in the grocery store… this issue is related to poverty!
Pascal: This is my car. My beloved car (laughs)… Yes, it’s still alive but it’s just given me a heart attack. We’ve had this car since ’98 but it has become very, very, very old. And we just can’t afford to buy any one and we can’t give up on it. Like each time we have to take it to a mechanic - $200 - $100 - $150 you know.
Julie: I know this is a silly question, but why is your car so important? Because I know people are going to ask that.
Pascal: My husband goes to school. He’s a student. I have to go to work and the nature of my work [homecare attendant], they give me a call and they give me an address and I have to go and look for it. So, it’s just kind of difficult, I can’t take the bus to some of the places… I wish it was one place I can go every time… And I don’t know if I can make it this winter because the car is…
So I started off with going through a little bit of what I’m personally going through right now which is still reading wonderful books that the government has produced. So, I decided to take a picture of it and ask them, ‘Where is the advantage?”
In June 2001, an MLA Committee reviewed low income programs in Alberta. In the next months, 6,000 people responded to a consultation booklet (featured here in Maggie’s photograph). People living in poverty and their allies seized upon this opportunity to highlight the failings of the programs – severely low rates, obtuse and restrictive eligibility guidelines, and procedures that made it nearly impossible to obtain support for upgrading and job training. The government’s response is available at http://www3.gov.ab.ca/hre/lir/. Essentially, the programs will undergo minor changes.
“To find out how much money you would receive through SFI [now Alberta Works], you must meet with an intake worker. As an example, a single parent with two children ages –14 who is expected to work would receive $870 a month as a standard benefit from SFI and about $200 a month from the National Child Benefit Supplement. A single person receiving Assured Support with no dependents would receive about $630 a month as a standard benefit.” (http://www3.gov.ab.ca/hre/sfi/pdf/SFIGuide.pdf)
A lady came in and sat down beside us at Sunrise Community Links. She asked if it was ok to have a coffee because one of the workers there was trying to find her housing. She said that she had just gotten out of the hospital the week before because she had a heart attack. While in hospital her roommate brought her clothes to her, put her dog in the pound and told her she needed to find somewhere else to live. She didn’t tell them at the hospital she had no home to go to when she was discharged because she was too embarrassed. She tried to go back to work at Walmart and was laid off because she was told that she wouldn’t be able to do the work because of the heart attack. She had already been on the street for a week when we ran into her and was not eating because she had no money to buy food and no way to cook any if she had any. Because she had no address she couldn’t even go to welfare to get her prescriptions filled (she had $10.00 worth of heart medication she couldn’t get filled) or ask for a cheque. The two nights that it snowed she slept in a port-a-potty, to get out of the snow and wind. She joked and said it wasn’t bad because at least she had a bathroom but no light to read her book. She tried sitting at a bus stop under a streetlight to read but was told by police that she had to move because the bench wasn’t her living room. She needed a rent report for welfare that has to be filled out by the homeowner or rental manager. Even if she is rooming with someone who themselves are renting, they can’t fill it out, it has to be the landlord. Anyway because I couldn’t let her go out the door and back on the street I brought her home and Voila! she had an address. Maggie called welfare and made arrangements to get her prescriptions filled. She said that she had always assumed that homeless people were on the street because they wanted to be there, that she never dreamed that it could happen to her or just how fast someone could find themselves homeless, that she now had a new perspective on homelessness. This lady is for sure not your typical homeless person, but believe me, it can happen fast and with no warning.