Poverty’s not the Problem

We’ve had an outbreak of a social dis-ease here in Peterborough.

Folks who could be my cousins or yours – are without shelter in this July climate crisis.

And as in any crisis, generous folks are responding to meet the immediate needs with tents, bottled water, and other necessities. 

But this social dis-ease has simply come to the surface with the closing of the Warming Room overnight shelter that usually keeps our cousins out of sight. The dis-ease however lurks much deeper within the bowels our society.

How is it in a G20 country of advanced technology, bureaucracies, and human rights legislations, that we can’t figure out how to trickle down enough wealth to meet the needs of our neighbours?

  1. We blame the victims.
  2. We blame the politicians who won’t raise taxes for fear of losing their seat for such an unpopular cause.
  3. We blame the system that’s overwhelmed with needs too many to sustain.

But what if we changed the conversation?

  • What if we chose to talk instead about our failure to redistribute wealth effectively?
  • What if the problem has very little to do with “the poor”?
  • What if the problem is actually those of us who enjoy privilege and wealth?

Talking about the problems of the poor is a great way to distract the conversation. From heart-warming success stories of those who’ve escaped poverty’s clutches to heart-breaking stories of those who are drowning in our midst while we shake our heads or throw them a leaky inner tube.

Let’s reframe the conversation to talk instead about me and mine, you and yours.

  1. Is there really a lack of resources? (let’s count wealth statistics instead of poverty stats)
  2. How much is enough wealth? (we know what the basic minimum income is – but what is the most that anyone needs? Is there such a thing as too much?)
  3. What harm does wealth create? (we know the social ills of poverty – what are the social ills of wealth?)
  4. Who deserves to be wealthy? (if the poor are undeserving – what are the merits that make greed acceptable?)
  5. Why is greed celebrated more than simple generosity? (cheating on our taxes is a socially acceptable sport – while choosing to be charitable is optional)

Help me out here will you? Send me your thoughts about the question above that most irks you. The stats you have. The reasons why you deserve the privileges you enjoy.

I’d love to have this conversation for a change. Let’s find a new diagnosis for our dis-ease.

Allan David Smith-Reeve

Celebrating Graduates at the Neighbour Network

Wednesday May 30th, 2019

We gathered for food, fun, and storytelling. The story of the day was about the graduation of a new batch of Getting Ahead investigators and mentors.

Pollinating agencies, churches, neighbours across Peterborough

Bedford House board members, reps from Greenwood and Trinity churches, and members of our pilot Bridging Team were in attendance to celebrate this new group of folks journeying onto the “bridge out of poverty”.

Five participants hosted the weekly study group at the Mount where they live. They were joined by a group of ten Mentors about a third of the way into the Getting Ahead study. This group is now ready to become a Bridging Team. 

The Getting Ahead study process involves sixteen sessions where participants engage in group discussions and self-reflection exercises. It offers a systemic view of poverty’s four causes (personal, social, corporate-exploitive, and political-policies). The study also grounds us in basic concepts such as – the 11 Essential Resources for a stable life – and the Hidden Rules of class.

Wednesday’s party involved the usual uproarious doses of laughter and heart-felt sentiments shared. The potluck table was overflowing and there was lots of time for meeting new friends. This gathering represents the first time folks from different teams have come together for the cross-fertilization of relationships.

It was an inauguration of what we’re calling the Neighbour Network.

Graduates were handed a certificate by facilitators Kat and Todd. These two led the study after experiencing the pilot Bridging Team in 2018 – and wanted to share the process with new folks.

“It’s contagious…” says Kat. “the sharing, the learning, the laughter, and the deepening of relationships – all as part of a global social movement to end poverty – you just want more!”

To find out more go to www.bedfordhouse.ca or email us at bedfordhouse551@gmail.com

To support the participation of under-resourced folks in Bridging Teams go to:


Text Box: Feedback comments from the grads:

What might you hope could happen for yourself – and others -in the long term as a result of this program?

* I hope to acquire some knowledge/skills to help me attain my goal in the wisest and simplest way. For others, I hope we all maintain the connection we have created.
* I hope this leads to sustained relationships between myself and some of the mentors. 
* I would like to become the new Todd and gain employment with the organization 😊

What were the most significant and/or valuable ideas and concepts 
you learned from the Getting Ahead Curriculum/Philosophy?

*Planning backwards! It really works to prevent defeatism- shows how easy each step actually is to accomplish. 
* The abstract/concrete dichotomy
* 11 resources
* I’m much more at ease socializing with people in other economic “classes”!

What would you tell someone who might be interested in this work? 

* Go into the program open minded. 
* It’s fun and important to think about how we live our lives. 
* I would say “go for it!” It will increase your self-esteem and your social capital.” 

Feedback comments from the mentors:

      What were the most significant and/or valuable ideas and concepts 
you learned from the Getting Ahead Curriculum/Philosophy?

* 11 essential resources-multidimensionality of life. Backwards planning. Case studies- insights into the complexity of the problems for people  
* The language we use is distinct in our own lives
* Assess current resource level. Establish goals. Foster improved resource levels. 
* Working backwards, social capital, in some cases, the systems are designed to hold people back.

What would you tell someone who might be interested in this work?

* It’s valuable work!
* Put your opinions on hold and open your minds to possibilities. 
* It’s mind-expanding and life-enriching!
* Do it! It’s an amazingly positive experience. If you are heart centered and want to feel part of something important – you will share in an amazing experience!

From Mentor to Ally

or… Working myself out of a Job

Allan David Smith-Reeve

January 2019

When I was first employed in the Poverty Business, an industry that employs tens of thousands of Canadians, I was told that it was my goal to work myself out of a job.

The idea was that if I was effective in my work, I would eliminate the need.

Eliminating Poverty however, I soon realized, would mean those tens of thousands of poverty workers would be unemployed. I had to wonder “Is it really in their best interests to solve the problem?”

To treat the root causes of poverty, instead of its symptoms, would unplug the great social-service machine that is fueled by people’s neediness. Addressing what causes that neediness is not in the interest of the wheels of government, or those at the levers of a labour market that benefit from keeping “the wolf at the door” of a workforce.

The Poverty Industry Machine continues to run – employing me – and so many others. Taxpayer’s dollars – not unlike the ten billion our government poured into GM to keep Canadians working – continue to feed this dinosaur-industry of another era.

What if those taxpayers became personally involved in creating an alternative to the poverty machine?

What if poverty’s “clients” became leaders instead in the growing of an organic model of shared prosperity?

What if people from all walks of life came together as neighbours to imagine how a local economy could fully employ every person in meeting needs currently unmet?

It is Citizens that could take this scenario from some academic dream theory into reality. It is ordinary people whose interests would be served.

Text Box: “Whatever the problem – community is the answer.”  Margaret Wheatley

If you ask “Who wants poverty?” you also need to ask “Who benefits from poverty?”

But if you ask “Who wants prosperity for everyone?” then we might also ask “In who’s interests would this make sense?”

In an upper room of a downtown Peterborough church there’s a small social experiment growing solutions – one relationship at a time.

Seeded by church and foundation dollars, started by church workers – based on an educational construct developed by academics – ordinary people are creating something that has the potential – if not to replace the poverty machine – to transform our relationship with it.

Peterborough’s Bridging Poverty Teams bring together under-resourced people living in poverty with volunteer mentors who have resources to share. On one level you might say it’s a system of resource re-distribution. But beneath that surface, there’s something much more radical happening.

Lynn and I were invited to join the Team for their pre-holyday seasonal lunch and celebration.  It’d been six months since we’d finished our work with the Team as the paid staff animators of the Team.

About 18 months earlier we’d invited this group of strangers into the experiment. What might happen if people from different walks of life came together weekly to share a meal, tell stories, have fun, study poverty and chip away at the work of stabilizing the lives of the under-resourced people in the team?

Key to the experiment was that the participants who were living in poverty were considered the lead problem-solvers. With staff support, they planned the sessions. They chose the curriculum. They evaluated the groups’ progress. And they determined the pace.

Staff offered both streams of participants training. Under-resourced folks in poverty were given tools of social analysis and critical awareness. Mentors were given lessons in asking questions instead of offering advice (Can you teach old dogs new tricks?) The Mentor training we called “From Mentor to Ally Training”.

Early in our research we attended a session at the Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre. A young indigenous leader told us that no one can claim to be an Ally. “It’s a title that has to be given to you by those you seek to work with.” she explained. “No one can call themselves an Elder – the community names its elders.”

So we invite Mentors to join a journey of discovery – to learn from those who solve poverty’s problems every day of their lives. And to learn how ask good questions (before offering the good advice that’s worked for them – starting from a place of privilege).


Once the two training streams finish and the two groups come together, we spend a lot of time building trust and learning. Over food, stories, and fun we get to see into each others’ lives. It’s a slow process and patience is required. Mentors ask “when do we get to start “helping?”  (The need for patience is why seniors tend be our mentors).

Gradually through the trust-building we all begin to see how “change” is a product of relationship. And we see how all of us need help with the “change” we envision for ourselves and for our communities.

Over the nine months the group gradually begins taking on the various roles and responsibilities to keep the team going. Circles of Support are created to work with each under-resourced participants goals. Teams are created to look after the essentials of Hospitality, Learning, and Evaluating. Then the paid staff pull out.

And the team keeps meeting.

Staff continued to meet weekly in a parallel Internship program with three of the under-resourced Leaders. These three had chosen to become trained as Bridging Team facilitators. As part of their training they took on the leadership of the first group (supported by a Steering Cmte. of Mentors who conduct monthly evaluation and planning sessions).

So, when Lynn and I, as the staff who had started the experiment, were invited back to join the Team for their pre-holyday seasonal lunch and celebration – I couldn’t help but give them an evaluation task before the celebrations began… 

Text Box: Quotes from Bridging Team Members December 2018

The group was asked to each write down a sentence to complete this statement: “We are a group of people who….”

“Who believe People in poverty are problem-solvers.”

“Who Believe By building resources there is a way out of poverty.”

“Would love to help people get out of poverty and stabilize their lives”

“Who have grown together, removed “class” barriers, love and support each other!”

“We are a group of leaders, learning, sharing and spreading our wings, soaring to new heights.”

“We are a group of people who love community building, love meeting others who have different yet same in most ways histories.”

“Who believe social capital needs to be built and expanded”

“Have learned from and taught each other about our differences and our similarities – basically the same but unique.”

“We’re a group of people who became family and friends”

“Support one another in mutuality, mutual caring, sharing, learning, laughing, loving, and eating with each other.”

“We are a group of teachers and students.”

“A group that goes beyond a room and a meeting place. We are friends!”

“We are family.”

“Who believe people have unlimited talent that sometimes just needs to be set free.”

“Friends who meet often to eat each other’s delicious food and share our resources with one another.”

After more than three decades working in the poverty business – I’ve experienced something new.  For the first time – I felt like I’d worked myself out of a job.

For more information: www.bedfordhouse.ca

Describe Bridging Teams in one sentence: 
Todd John

Five individuals living in poverty in Peterborough (who’ve named themselves “the Awesome People”) journey with mentors towards a more stable life.

What is the goal of this project?

Bridging Teams address the 11 Essential Resources required to overcome Poverty’s Tyranny of day-to-day crises. By creating a social network of middle-class mentors, the Awesome people have expanded their resources and supports to deal with poverty’s complex challenges. 

What strategies does the project use?

Using the “Bridges Out of Poverty”[1]*  framework, two separate learning streams orient under-resourced Leaders and middle class Mentors.

Then, the five Awesome People and ten Mentors come together to meet weekly for three hours in a Bridging Team to cross cultural barriers, build community, and fight poverty.

Once the team has built trust and bonded, support circles for each of the Awesome people are formed. Two mentors were assigned to walk with each of the Awesome participants.

The Team was facilitated by staff for the first nine months of weekly meetings.

Describe the most positive aspects of the project and anything that you would do differently if you did it again.

By far the most positive aspect of the work was the success in creating a safe, non-judgmental, space for mutual learning among people from different socio-economic cultures (or classes).  Our focus on Team-building included three key elements:

  • Food: every session included a meal first provided by staff, then shifting to a pot-luck sharing.
  • Fun: The use of trust-building, adventure-based, activities created a common ground and bonded the team.
  • Storytelling: Midway evaluations scored storytelling from each participant as a highlight. Every person answered five interview questions. The group passed a talking stick reflecting on what they valued in each person’s story.

Each of the fifteen participants has created 18 new relationships including staff (15 x 18 = 270 new relationships).  This new social network has the potential of affecting the lives of every participant in significant ways. For the Awesome People, they now have positive relationships with retired teachers, lawyers, therapists, journalists, social workers, parenting experts, and clergy. In addition, they will benefit in all kinds of ways from a new access into the social networks of these new intentional friendships.

Here is a sample of what the Awesome participants had to say:

“…allowed me to find a career direction after many years of uncertainty. Now I can move toward a new goal”

“…wonderful sense of belonging”

“…feeling very good about myself and my life”

“…helped me see the strength in myself…more self-confidence with speaking in pubic, self-esteem, leadership roles, and having fun”

Mentors were challenged to learn (through training and extensive practice) how to become allies beyond their habitual desires to help/fix/advise:

“…greater awareness of real-life challenges of people in poverty”

“…the possibility of a world where everyone is heard, everyone is part of what we’re creating, and no one is left out”

“…one of the best processes I’ve ever encountered for building solidarity across economic class”

“I am less judgmental, and I am in awe of how resourceful these awesome people are.”

“…helped me build deep connections and trust relationships across class lines”

“Bedford House is uniquely suited as a catalyst to engage, train, and equip diverse groups of people.”

What has made this project a success?

Community support for this slow, costly process has been outstanding. The Awesome participant’s dedication and energy drives us forward to believe “Whatever the problem – Community is the answer.” 

Grassy Narrows

The weeping place is where I go when I lose my way.

In deepest sorrow shared there comes a knowing – that there is a greater deeper wider timeless power that holds all suffering within its breadth and depth and is not diminished.

The suffering mixes like compost – what is lost – into the rich procreative soil of what is,

the rain of doubt washes away ego’s vain attempts to claim control or credit,

the winds bring seeds of hope from unexpected places,

and the joy of the sun’s warmth urges tickles of laughter out into the open.

To recall the everflowing spinal fluid of creation’s gifting,

to gather the opposites of left and right hemispheres to meet in those sweet spots of possibilities emerging

is to do the work of pushing through disbelief, disorder, discouragements I carry from past failures (that were really only good tries – waiting for a friend’s help to try again).

I can be my own best friend. When honesty demands a good look in the mirror. When the list of inadequacies, mistakes and miscues grows as long as the longest night. I am the one who can say to the dark “Yes – but.”

The “Yes” is the invitation for those ugly thoughts to come and dance. And as they come and dance around the sacred fire I’ve built for this ceremony – they lose the fearful shadowed power I give them when I push them away into dark corners. In the firelight of the dance I ask them “what gift do you bring to offer?”

So the “but” becomes the private joke I make – learning to laugh at this trickster’s attempt to turn my most awful shames into impassable boulders on the path – when they really are painful pebbles in my shoes.

In this dance of serious hilarious humility I grow large – so much larger than those pebbled boulders. Standing on the shoulders of ancestor’s work I see what really matters. Stretching my arms wide enough to embrace both past and future i bring it all into the here of today’s to dos. Spinning with the earth’s turning the divine imagination infuses what I offer with the knowing that this same green growing tall energy in me is within the canopy of a jungle forest ecosystem where I am rooted and never – no never – alone.

You know you are on the way – on the path that you were invited to walk when born – when these days of doubt arrive.

Distracted, disordered, discombobulated – I go to the weeping place. In good company I sit with those who endure the worst. Listening I discover what it takes to stand tall once more in the company of great-grandparents gone – who wait for us on the way.

three brothers falls, October 30th, 2015


My morning prayers rise like smoke. Yesterday’s living a burnt offering. I am grateful for change.

While many of us have heads swirling with the change this seasonal shift brings. From summer’s ease to September busyness. From having time to watch things grow – drawing in the summer’s heat – to not enough time to get ready – as the long slow exhale towards winter begins. Today, with the equinox shift, instead of being overwhelmed by so much change, I am appreciating the power of change.

Our guest at last wednesday’s “Subversive Faith” interview, Ann Naylor, started me down this path. Some of the things she said have stayed with me. Listening to someone’s story of faith can stir the embers of our own stories.

Ann told us about her grounding in a family where church was integral to their living. And I was struck by her description of her large blended-family of kids gathering every Sunday evening for a family council. It was a time for personal check-ins and a time to discuss and decide issues facing them all. What struck me was how this intentional process echoed through Ann’s life of justice and peace-making.

This same kind of circle process is key to the learning at the Centre for Christian Studies where Ann has taught for the past seventeen years. This co-learning process has shaped our thinking about what Bedford House might offer.

Ann’s stories were not just about going round and round but also full of progress made against the odds. How the sting of hate towards bi-racial families was an awakening to her childhood sensibilities of what was right and wrong and worth fighting for. How a church so ready to fight for justice in the world couldn’t deal with its own male-female power imbalances. How peace-making meant staying in relation with opponents and making the conversations not only political but also personally compassionate.

Ann held senior offices at the national united church during the 1980s when sexual orientation was the change at hand. At the same time she walked in solidarity with Latin American liberation leaders and stood between Quebec police rifles and first nations protestors at Oka.

When one of us asked how she keeps hopeful in the face of enduring opposition to change she quoted Pete Seeger, “Music surrounds hatred and makes it surrender.”

Ann teaches with music. It both feeds her spirit and is a way of sharing the messages of peace in a way that reaches all generations. Many of her best lessons, she shared, come from the children she teaches weekly in Sunday school.

When asked about her own endurance in the struggles, Ann spoke of how “the people of God” have always faced incredible odds and so often suffered violence. She is inspired by those who have lost everything to hatred and yet still work from the mysterious place of love. When the people of god have all else stripped away what endures is the vision for peace that love inspires and the ancient-core-heart-courage to go on.

The people of god. Not necessarily church people. Not necessarily Christians. The people who god calls together into the hope that is humanity’s divine destiny.

Ann’s stories rekindled that calling in me. I could feel it like a shared heartbeat in the room as our small group listened. People can change. Thank god. People can change the way systems work. Thank god. People can attune themselves to the ways of the earth – at peace with both living and dying, seeding and harvesting, plenty and want. In right relations with all life there arises a harmony that surrounds hatred and makes it surrender. Thank god.