Can't say that I exactly long to watch the SBS documentary/reality TV show Struggle Street, but I did last night, particularly interested because this season it featured a couple of Brisbane suburbs I have passing familiarity with.
I have to say, the four "strugglers" they featured last night really pushed the boundaries of sympathy:
* the 55 year old invalid pensioner woman who was being tossed out of the rented Inala house by the unappealing guy who had let her live with him. The cause for eviction was not well defined, and the bloke himself may well have been obnoxious, but one suspects that her filling up a couple of rooms of a small house with hoarder's quantities of dolls, ceramic butterflies, cheap stuffed toys and general junk might have had something to do with it. She also smokes inside the house (one of the apparent lessons of the show seems to be that no matter how badly off, those in poverty in Australia all manage to pay the exorbitant cost of tobacco), and for recreation she zooms around the suburb's footpaths in her mobility scooter (gifted to her by the Salvation Army) at what looked to be dangerous speed. She has three adult children, who don't live close, and indicated that she had a strained relationship with them due to her "meeting the wrong men" in the past, although there seemed to be details left hanging. (One suspects the men were abusive to her or her kids.)
At least she wasn't a drug addict, but a key theme seemed to be a life of "bad choices", including getting hooked on acquiring junk toys and trinkets because they make her feel better.
* The Melbourne former heroin addict who spent half a day trying to find where he had hidden the rent money, gave up and went to the community housing office to confess he had lost it while on an alcohol (and pot?) bender the day before, only to be told that he had in fact already paid it a couple of days before! He had completely forgotten, and made the observation that maybe he did do too much marijuana. (Well, duh.) He was a cheerful soul, who got out of his recently inherited late mother's car carrying a tall bottle of beer, and complained about his brother who lived in the Mum's house and with whom he was fighting about the estate.
This does not bode well. On the face of it, he will end up with half the value of the house in cash, and I would not have a great deal of confidence that the money won't go up in drugs of one kind or another.
He also indicated that, with his new set of false teeth, he expected to be pulling in the ladies soon. (That's another lesson of the show: no matter how poor and drug addicted your are, you'll be able to "pull" a partner with equally bad judgement. Unless you are actually living under a bridge, perhaps.)
* The most depressing scenario - the ice addicted mother and father of four kids living in a shelter in Inala. Him with biker friends, a criminal history (not sure for what), domestic violence orders, and seizures from his drug use, caught in his car with synthetic marijuana saying he wasn't aware it was illegal. The mother was apparently prone to screaming violent rages from the ice and confrontations with the husband, who was too "controlling". He did sound like a jerk, but she looked so unhealthy and self pitying, I again had trouble with feeling sympathy.
The worst thing of all, in a way, with parents like that is listening to their endless claims that they know they have to get clean and live straight, and they know that if they don't they're ruining things for their kids who they really, really, really love, and knowing they are no where near actually taking action. I don't know how social workers put up with listening to such guff that seems to go on for years before people might finally actually get clean.
And, of course, the other lesson from this is the sad fact that children (usually) still love the parents who they know are self destructive and don't want to be away from them. I did, of course, feel very sorry for them - although I would rather that the 16 year old wasn't already smoking too. (She complained she was sick of being the de facto mother to the two youngest, who looked like well behaved, even if stressed out.)
I'm not sure what exactly is the right way to feel about all of this: it's easy to have sympathy to people who are pure victims of misfortune (ill health, accident, crime); but it is so, so common that poverty is caused or accompanied by things you know can be overcome if sufficiently motivated - drug and alcohol addiction, bad choices in how money is spent, staying with partners who are clearly hurting prospects of improvement.
You can't stop people making bad choices at first, but when it comes to government and charitable intervention, it is with much chagrin that you have to watch the bad choices continuing.