Wednesday, 17 June 2015

How do you define POOR?

Our session at the Booth Centre this week was unusual because it centred around a discussion rather than creative making. The discussion was between our participants, many of whom are homeless people, and Zelda Baveystock, who has the role of Social Historian for The Homeless Library project. Zelda brought us information about the Poor Laws, which have an anniversary this week. From this discussion, with the group of project participants, we then ranged across the many issues that Zelda raised - particularly who is responsible for the poor?

Artist book for The Homeless Library

This was the first time we'd run a discussion for The Homeless Library and it was therefore a bit rough and ready, but it was passionate. There were raised voices, uncomfortable silences, anger and there were some tears too. We would like to thank all who took part from the bottom of our hearts. This was no easy ride and we were very touched that people trusted us enough to sit down with us and open their lives.

Among the things that caught my ear was a very simple (but very complex) attempt at a definition.  We went around the table and asked participants, in turn, to define "poor". These are their answers, as I jotted them down.

People with nothing, they're the poor.

I'm poor, but I still manage to have a good meal. There's people worse off than me.

I don't think "poor" qualifies in Britain - you have rich poor. You don't die of no food. Go somewhere else and you see what's poor.

You'd have to go to India for that one. A lot of children on street corners hanging onto their mum's string ties...

Children living on the streets. I've seen quite a few.

I lived in the Philippines, that was poor. Kids washing cars for money. On every corner like that (hand out).

There is no such thing as love and there is no such thing as poverty. It's how YOU define it.

To be poor you have to have a low standard of living in relation to the others in your community. The poor in this country are rich in relation to the poor in other countries.

The poor - disabled people and especially homeless people and also people who have committed crime and been cut off from many, many things.

Can be anyone. Could happen to anyone. Broken marriage, or losing a job, it can happen to anyone. Then you're just surviving.  

The full conversation was recorded and will be kept as part of the archive of The Homeless Library. We intend to run several of these discussions over the course of the project, with the hope that insights can be gained into the past - and some things learned that might help our shared futures.

Artist book for the Homeless Library

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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