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Can ‘poorism’ be a solution to poverty

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I wonder if Winnipeg is ready for "poorism"?

Poorism is a modern tourism phenomenon which is slowly but surely expanding throughout the world. It started in Third World countries such as India, where the overcrowded slums of Mumbai provided fascinating insight to such things as the lack of sanitation which dirtied up the Birkenstocks of ‘poorists’ and opened their eyes to "there but for the grace of God go I." 

The market has expanded from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to developed countries such as the Czech Republic and even England.

My first reaction to poorism was disgust at the very thought of turning the plight of one group of human beings into some kind of side show, like a carnival act. But I have learned that the industry which has developed from touring the troubled is providing badly needed funds for the very elimination of the spectacle it depends on. Most of the money collected from the tourists, or ‘poorists’,  is used to provide shelter and treatment programs for the victims on display.

The Third Annual CEO Downtown Sleep Out last week hints of poorism as CEOs learn more about homelessness and poverty by discussing the issue with social agencies and touring downtown shelters with people who are experienced with homelessness as their guides. The 100 CEOs in sleeping bags on sidewalks raised more funds to alleviate the problem than ever this year.

Obviously, some people go on these tours to "gawk" — to see first-hand a lifestyle they can only read about normally. But it can be a way to be thankful for the blessings which separate you and I from the abject poverty which causes people to sell their bodies and their souls.

So, for many, this is a way to get up front and close to situations they genuinely care about so they can relate to the difficulties faced by the people they support from afar.

Is there are a market for full out poorism in Winnipeg?  What form might it take?

Would we gather a group of tourists and take them on a tour of our north and west ends?  This city often goes far beyond what would seem to be ordinary poorism fare of watching some homeless people in various stages of crisis in front of Main Street Project.

What if our poorists witnessed one of those out of control, drunken parties that end in a stabbing or shooting that we read about all too often on Monday mornings?  Do we really want these outsiders to witness the exploitation and abuse that takes place on some Winnipeg streets?

Perhaps when some of the problems of poverty and homelessness have been solved, we can provide tours explaining how we accomplished that. This would offer a more positive slant on poorism. To those who think this might be boring and not very marketable, sensationalism is not what we’re after here.

We swivel our heads when we pass by a traffic accident, and when we get home, we care about who might have been injured or died in that tragedy. Maybe we just need to think a bit more about the people around us who are in less fortunate circumstances.

And do something about it.

Don Marks is a community correspondent for Osborne Village. You can reach him at marksonthings@gmail.com

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