Students Can Reduce Poverty… And We Have to Start Now


Just like with any big problem, it can be hard to know how to help the homeless people whom we see on the streets. Whether because of the stigma that comes with having no home, or because as a student, I’m often in a hurry, and have little money, I hardly ever used to stop to talk with, or give something to, a homeless person. I felt guilty that I couldn’t single handedly fix homelessness, but I hardly ever did anything concrete about it. Now, that’s changed. I’ve learned that homelessness is just a part of a far greater problem: poverty as a whole. This means that to mitigate homelessness, we have to focus on poverty as a whole, as well. There’s this idea of an iceberg of oppression, where individual oppression is above the surface, while systemic, along with cultural oppression both lie beneath. I’ve
learned that poverty, and poverty reduction are not about me. I don’t have to feel guilty, on an individual level, about issues that are rooted so deeply below the surface, and I shouldn’t feel that way. At the same time, though, I do have the responsibility, as a citizen of the world, to help dismantle the stigma, and the injustice that form the cultural basis for poverty. We all do. The good news is that there are lots of things that we can do, on all levels of the iceberg, both to uncover and dismantle the system, and to find solutions to the problems of homelessness and poverty. If we don’t act now, the cycle we’re in, that allows an increasing amount of the population to live in poverty, will only worsen over time.
Like with many things, shifting our individual perception is the first, and most essential, step. Without recognizing and believing that homeless people, and people who are living in poverty are humans just like us, we will be unable to go further. It’s time to look past labels and appearances to the humans behind them, and it’s time to remind ourselves that different from us doesn’t automatically equal fear. While different can be strange, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from one another, and in fact if we do so, our differences and our fears tend to dissolve. Likewise, if we have opportunities to connect with others, it’s important for us to seize them. Solutions such as modular housing might seem new, but in reality, they are just innovations of ideas that have been around for a long time, and could benefit us and our communities immensely. Not to mention, checking our privilege is also critical. Many of us are so incredibly fortunate to not have to experience poverty and its effects, and it’s important to be grateful for the opportunities and advantages we have. When you feel left out or let down, remember that it’s not the end of the world. Instead of getting bogged down in how (un)lucky you are, use your frustration to fuel more change.
On the systemic level, the ​Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) ​event is a great way to help organizations that support homeless people, and you can invite your friends and family to join you. By raising money, you’re not having to donate money yourself, and by walking 2, 5 or 10km in the winter, you’re getting a small taste of what it would feel like to live outside in that time of the year. There are ten locations in the Lower Mainland, including three right in Vancouver, and this year it will be happening on February 24th! Furthermore, organizations like local homeless shelters always welcome clothing and food donations, or new volunteers. Additionally, Kitchen on a Mission is specifically geared towards students, as they organize shifts of volunteers to transfer food donations from local
bakeries, restaurants, and grocery stores, to homeless shelters in the area. It’s also important to support people in your immediate community who may be struggling to make ends meet, and you can do so through meals, care packages, or small favours and services.

If you’re looking more towards the political side of things, the BC Branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) ​is an amazing source of information on poverty, and other challenges within our province. Not only can you inform yourself, but they offer analysis of, and investigation into key government policies, as well as proposed solutions. At the end of the day, poverty reduction is often about changing those policies, so you can advocate for raising minimum wage and welfare rates, sign the letter calling for a government poverty reduction plan, or talk to your MLA (provincial representative) online, or in person. Moreover, what services that are in place already aren’t always inclusive of and safe for LGBTQ+ people, those who suffer from addiction or mental health challenges, or Indigenous and racialized people. Youth and seniors are also particularly vulnerable within shelters and while making use of other supports, and their safety requires specific action that the provincial and federal governments are not currently taking. We need to be more aware about which organizations we promote and support; this is another area in which we can focus on advocating for, and creating change around. And if you’re not sure where to put your energy, think about what you value, and find a way to ensure that others are able to receive those same things in a safe, reliable, and sustainable way. Remember that students have immense power. Because it’s fairly rare to have students be passionate about poverty reduction, people will pay more attention, which can
raise awareness, and get us more support.


At the root of the problem lies fear of people who seem different than us, and indifference towards others’ lives. As a result, we’re stuck in a cycle that overlooks and excludes certain people, and the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ continues to grow. If we are to change this, we need to tell others about our changed perception, and about the work that we do, so those ideas will continue to grow. It might not always be easy, but we have to correct others when they say or do things that keep the negative cycle going, and we have to teach others about what we’ve learned. We need to include everyone who we know, in everything that we would normally do by ourselves, whether it be just remembering that we are all human, or volunteering, attending a protest, or investigating government methods. We have to start challenging what we think will always be the same, and use our privilege to change it. We have to start respectful, but productive discussion, and we have to create common ground with everyone, in order for our common humanity to be preserved.



Written by Naia Lee

To see more of Naia’s work check out or @livehopelyfe on Instagram and Twitter, and follow Hopelyfe Movement on Facebook.


*All views expressed in this blog post belong to the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.

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