The St Vincent de Paul Society, which assists 100,000 South Australians each year, is conducting the study in the Elizabeth South area, one of the most disadvantaged suburbs in the State.
Acting Community Capacity Building leader Ruthy Chileshe (pictured) has been conducting interviews over the past three months with regular Vinnies clients who are asked to share their personal experiences of poverty.
“We want to break the cycle by getting an understanding of their journey,” she said.
“We see their children, where they live and get to know why they are constantly coming here (to Vinnies).”
Ms Chileshe said through the study Vinnies was hoping to gain a greater insight to factors contributing to families living below the poverty line: “When someone thinks about people who are poor they often say it must be because of drugs, or they must be lazy because they don’t have a job.
“But really a lot of it is that they are fighting against a system they can’t understand or change.”
She said the study, which also incorporates interviews conducted by Mario Trinidad from the Elizabeth Vinnies conference, had uncovered a variety of situations where poverty was the common denominator.
For example, a person could be working but not earning enough money to live on; other “highly intelligent” people had fallen victims to abuse such as domestic violence; while some had health issues or disabilities and were trying to manage on the Newstart allowance.
“I can’t comprehend how someone can survive on $400 or $500 if they have a private rental, they have children to look after and a car, which they often can’t drive because they can’t afford the registration or petrol,” Ms Chileshe said.
“Mental health issues are another aspect…and then next door there may be a house of drug addicts. They are just fighting against the odds.”
She admitted many who had participated in the study were reluctant at first – believing that if they were honest about their situation it might lead to government services coming to their door. However, once she gained their trust Ms Chileshe said it was a beneficial experience for both parties.
“We treat them with respect and accept them as they are. I am very humbled by the fact that they open their houses and their hearts to me.
“It is a process of deep listening. In many cases it can be intergenerational problems, people talk of no-one in their family ever being employed. They feel trapped and they say they don’t want their children to end up like them.”
Ms Chileshe said there had been some “small wins”, such as the woman who was a domestic violence victim for much of her life and was now seeking some type of public forum so she could share her experiences.
“She wants to be a ‘chain breaker’ so her daughters don’t become part of the domestic violence cycle,” she said.
The findings of the study will be reviewed by Vinnies, with follow-up contact being made to participants for several months.
Jump to next article