Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Moving people around

I happened to pick up The Atlantic yesterday and have so far made it through only one article. It's about the shifting crime areas in the US and some of the causes behind that. Apparently in the last 10 years or so, the highest crime areas went from being in the projects (lowest-income housing) to being all over the place alone routes out of the projects. Coincidentally enough, the projects started being dismantled about 10 years ago and the highest crime rate areas are matching the areas in which the people from the projects wind up.

I found this article and its conclusions disquieting for a number of reasons. My first reaction was, "oh my god, the poorest people bring the violence with them." As the article went on, it explained that it had been decided that the projects would be demolished and that the people who lived there would move. They would pay 25% of their rent and the government would top up the rent, to a point, and because they were in these better neighbourhoods, these people would lift themselves out of their poverty.

I didn't mention anything about new infrastructure or education or medical clinics because those weren't provided. These people were basically thrown out of their community (and it was torn down, so they couldn't go back) with no support or anything. How appalling is that? When I realized this I started thrumming with emotion. Every time I think about this I feel the same way.

The article truthfully points out that "truly escaping poverty seems to require a will as strong as a spy's: you have to disappear to a strange land, forget where you came from, and ignore the suspicions of everyone around you." We had very little money when I was growing up and I think it's fair to say that we were at the lower end of the class spectrum, which is where most people in poverty are situated. I don't know if we were as poor as those that lived in the projects

Over the years I've managed to situate myself in the middle to upper part of the middle class, and it was much like that quote said. Not that I ever left my family behind (at least, I hope I didn't!). Things are done differently in each of the classes: it's not just the clothes, or the toys, or the education, or the mannerisms; it's the things you talk about. Like My Fair Lady's Eliza when she goes to the Ascot - sure, she looks the part, but she's not talking about the right things and it's obvious that she doesn't fit in.

So if all that is true, how could people just lift themselves out of the class their poverty puts them in? Some people who really want out will make it because they'll work really hard to do it. But they have to have the energy and the opportunity to get out. Moving out of the projects might not be enough.

The article talked about a "'weathering effect', the wearing-down that happens as a lifetime of baggage accumulates." For whatever reason, poverty brings baggage - the baggage of kids and their obligations, of working long hours, of not being really happy, of not having a lot of money for extras. Someone with a lot of baggage might not have the energy to lift themselves out of their current situation, and to them, moving is just more baggage.

For the drug dealers, gang members, and other criminal people, well, what else do they know? If they're not being given any other opportunities - if they're asked to leave the projects and they're put in these other neighbourhoods - what else are they going to do? And once a critical mass of their associates move in to the neighbourhood, it'll be just like old times.

Sigh. I'm disheartened by the decisions that these cities made in moving these people out of their neighbourhoods. Yes, the projects were awful, but you can't move people away from their neighbourhood without giving them some support. And how could they have expected all these people to change?

I don't know what they can do about this now. I wish it hadn't happened in the first place, that they'd thought a little more closely about what it was they were doing and asking.

On another note, today is my and Ian's anniversary: we've been together for eight years now. How time passes!!! Happy Anniversary, Ian :)

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