“Poverty isn’t a lack of money, it’s a condition that once you’re in, it’s almost impossible to get out of,” said Kerry Flynn, Thursday morning when I was interviewing him for my latest update on the residents who lost their homes in the Walnut Grove Motel fire and their fruitless efforts to find new housing.
There’s a general rule in writing that you shouldn’t start stories with quotes, but that has been running through my head for the last few hours because of how much it resonates.
Flynn lives at the Walnut Grove motel and it’s an oasis of affordability in an otherwise exclusive rental market.
While he appreciates his address and the stability he’s found there, he’s well aware of the scrutiny he faces for it.
“People look at us like we’re drug addicts and wonder, ‘how can you be so poor?’” he said.
“There are a lot of things that happen to people that let you end up in poverty. There should be a place in society to allow poor people to live.”
Flynn used to have a business, a wife and a house he owned, but all those things drifted away.
First went the marriage, and with it half the home. Then came health issues.
“I have Crohn’s disease and had to have a surgery, then when I was recovering, I had another doctor tell me I had cancer,” he said.
Flynn took one hit after the other, and moved to Kelowna to be close to family for what he thought would be his final days. Even 10 years ago it was hard finding a rental, especially as a pet owner.
He went to a number of places, and at the end of the list was the Walnut Grove.
He met the owner and was welcome to move in with his cat.
It’s while living there he learned from a new doctor he would be allotted more treatments in B.C. and he lived.
His new lease on life, however, came with its pitfalls.
“When my socioeconomic situation changed significantly people disappeared from my life,” he said. “I think if people look at it the way it happened and thought, ‘Gee, that could happen to me’ that’s too terrifying to them. If they can blame you for being in your condition, and it’s your fault somehow, then they feel safer.”
But, he pointed out a statistic often repeated at social agency meetings, most people are just a few pay cheques away from poverty.
“I used to pay $50,000 a year in taxes, and now I have people who make $50,000 a year look down their nose at me,” he said. “That bothers me.”
Flynn’s candor is remarkable, but sadly his story isn’t.
Poor people in this province are screwed. It’s not just a Kelowna problem.
This story can be heard in just about every well-populated city in B.C. and it’s shameful.
There’s loads of finger-pointing that can and has been done over the years.
B.C.’s provincial government, for example, once said it didn’t need an official plan to reduce poverty, focusing its efforts instead on job creation. It didn’t matter whether those jobs weren’t full time or if they didn’t pay a livable wage.
In the run-up to the election, the NDP said, if elected, it would boost wages, adopt $10-a-day child care, and create a poverty reduction plan.
“We are the only province that doesn’t have (a plan) and it strikes me that any business, any not-for-profit, any family usually tries to put in place a plan if they want to get out of a jam—and we’re in a jam right now,” said NDP leader John Horgan, was quoted saying.
Flynn and the residents of Walnut Grove are in a real jam.
Let’s hope that new premier of this province remembers his pre-election schtick and turns his attention toward the issues at hand before more people are mired in a situation that they can’t see an end to.