I Hate the Term “Less Fortunate”

I Hate the Term “Less Fortunate”

I Hate the Term “Less Fortunate”

By Karen Harmon

With the recent cold snap promised for Vancouver, the city where I live, I am reminded of what my husband does for a living. He manages a homeless shelter.

As part of his job, he checks the weather daily, if not hourly, to predict the outdoor elements for people living on the streets. The weather is often a topic of conversation in our home, in addition to the growing number of impoverished people, consequences of living outdoors, and possible solutions.

So far, in our at-home discussions, we have not been able to figure out any quick fixes, Band-Aids, or a perfect medley of remedies.

We have noticed there seems to be more overall awareness— how can one not see that the numbers keep increasing? We can all agree that when we drive or walk past a street person, we are reminded of just how dismal and unmanageable the homeless situation has become.

Vancouver B.C.

In 2010 I was asked to teach a marginalized fitness class for people in my community. I was hired by a Community Center that shared a vision with a Pastor of a local Church.

Some might call this Church an inner-city church with a mission to help those who might have fallen on hard times. I call this Church a saving grace and a genuine example of loving others unconditionally.

The number one definition from the dictionary for the word marginalized reads like this: placed in a position of little or no importance, influence, or power.

To that definition, I want to say, “Excuse me?!” Perhaps it is an accurate summary, but why does it sound so heartless and mean? I suppose that is the purpose of a dictionary. They give us the facts and only the facts.

With his vision, the pastor believes that everyone has a right to mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, and financial health and well-being. Sounds very factual to me.

So, he started a group called Coffee Time.

No Strings Attached

Coffee Time is a warm place where people are welcomed in, greeted with a friendly face, a cup of coffee, and a snack. They can listen to a user-friendly sermon that offers a gentle message of hope and kindness. They are not judged. Everyone is given a ten-dollar grocery voucher and asked if they need prayer, a friend, or someone who can listen and hear them. Maybe they need assistance with their income tax, a place to stay, or a pair of shoes. The needs can be endless when a person is marginalized. Volunteers from the church offer support.

Once a week on the same day, one hour before Coffee Time, individuals are offered an exercise class taught by me. It is called the Active Living Program—a free 45-minute exercise class intended for people who cannot afford gym fees, or better yet, would not feel comfortable or even accepted in such an environment.

My class provides a non-judgemental place to socialize, stretch, strengthen, and feel welcome, with uplifting music and explicit basic instruction interspersed with encouragement. Each lesson consists of easy to follow, functional exercises, concluding with a 20-minute stretching and relaxation component with positive, relaxing visualizations and deep healing meditation.

During the warmup, when catchy tunes are playing, participants have been known to break away from the routine to dance with one another. These carefree actions are a testimony to the fun element that is inspired. Conversely, during the relaxation segment, some individuals seemingly take a moment for a well-needed cat nap.

A sense of community has developed with the participants over the last ten years.

Everyone who attends this program has seen results and changes mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically.

I have witnessed immense healing, gratitude, increased self-esteem, and confidence from a community of well-deserving people.


Undoubtedly all of these people, at some point in their day, experience judgement, rudeness, averted eyes, fearful glances, annoyance, and people wondering why they do not get jobs, clean up their act, or get off the streets.

Coffee Time, Me and Pastor Dave

I have walked in their shoes

When I was thirty-two years old, I was on the verge of being homeless. Thankfully, I had love and kindness displayed to me, and I was instilled with hope and courage from an early age. I was not abused physically, mentally, or emotionally. However, things could have turned out differently for me, much worse and more detrimental to myself and my children. The excerpt below describes my first day in low-income housing and on the threshold of collecting welfare.

Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets

Starting Over
“I looked around the cluttered living room, assessing the damage, until I spotted the soft curls on my four-year-old daughter’s head as she sat with her little sister in an empty packing box. Both were contentedly colouring: Jessica carefully trying to stay in the lines while Emma, sitting as close to her big sister as possible, was eagerly scribbling.
Pondering their sisterhood with a full heart, I gazed at my daughters as if I was a bystander, lingering and wondering what would happen next. I felt like I was a person not wanting to leave the movie theatre, hanging on until the closing credits had scrolled off the screen, eventually emerging from the darkened cinema to face brilliant sunlight or perhaps a dreary evening rain.
For the last thirty-two years, I had watched the movie of my life unfold, and it seemed as though I was unable to control the course or path. Before I had arrived, the script had been written and the actors cast. As the story took on twists and turns, plot changes, and various climaxes along the way, I sat idly by, watching the series of events unfold.
Thankfully alive and seemingly unscathed, I decided that nothing was regrettable, everything was memorable, and I could learn from it all. Like any other moviegoer, I had sat patiently, waiting for the plot to thicken or the knight in shining armour to arrive. Comedic interludes were just as prevalent as the nail- biting cliff-hangers. Perhaps the happy ending was not meant to be, or maybe this, right here and now, was the happy ending, and I could not see it yet.
I was pleased with what a beautiful little girl my oldest daughter, Jessica, had become, not just outwardly but on the inside, too. Her spirit was soft and gentle, especially toward her two-year-old little sister. I realized now that she had become more of a mother to her younger sibling than I had been.
I looked deeper at Jessica’s bowed head as she filled the pages of her Cinderella colouring book, and I felt her determination. I was filled with compassion and reminded of how she worried about me, silently asking if I was okay. It was evident and showed in her constantly furrowed brow and ever-present look of concern as she stared into my eyes and pleadingly searched my face for answers. I would do my best to respond, interjecting and interrupting her deep, brooding thoughts. My father always told me that laughter was the best medicine, so as often as I could, I would engage my girls in stories, jokes, and silliness, even if it was the furthest thing from my mind.
The first thing on my to-do list was to find some semblance of order amongst the stacked boxes, furniture, and garbage bags full of clothes. I was looking forward to my new beginning, our new beginning, and a fresh start in our unfamiliar home—subsidized housing for marginalized people.
Receiving a lucky break and chosen from a long list of applicants just as needy as I was, it had only been two weeks since I had started praying, and now here we were in a two-bedroom, low-income townhouse unit, myself and two little girls. We were alone, the three musketeers, all for one and one for all.
Today I would finish unpacking, and tomorrow I would be applying for welfare. I was relieved to be free.”

Less Fortunate, but Less Fortunate than whom?

The definition from The Urban Dictionary of what the term “Less Fortunate” means is as follows…

A term used to label people who make poor decisions in life and are quick to blame those who have succeeded or have wealth. Less-fortunate is the opposite of fortunate, which is defined as “lucky; enjoying good luck,” and therefore, someone who is less-fortunate just has bad luck. Example: Katie has been divorced three times and has eight kids and cannot support them with her minimum wage job. She is less-fortunate than Sally, who studied in school, got a valuable degree, an above-average salaried position in marketing, and is happily married.

This definition is not so factual, and maybe we should erase the term entirely.

The Outside Wrapper

Remember when our mothers would tell us, “beauty is only skin deep; it’s what’s inside that counts?

As a fitness instructor, I have gone through a certification program, and I have taken various courses and classes to stay abreast of different fitness trends. I can save your life with my C.P.R. and First Aid training if you trip and fall or, heaven forbid, instantaneously go into cardiac arrest.

When I am upfront during my traditional exercise classes, I am professionally dressed, and my running shoes are pristine and clean. My microphone is securely in place. My ponytail is perfect. I have been known to wear lipstick to showcase an encouraging, friendly smile. My music is correctly uploaded from Apple Music or iTunes, and my routine is carefully planned out; the 20, 30 or 40 participants see me as their BCRPA fitness leader.

Not one single person in the class knows that I once collected welfare.

When I look out at my participants, equally dressed in their Costco Spandex, Mountain Equipment Co-op leggings, or Lululemon fashionable exercise gear, I can only see their exterior. Sometimes facial expressions or heavy shoulders can be a slight indication of what’s inside. Still, from their outside wrapper I cannot see their profession, how they were raised, or if they are lonely and hurting, on the brink of bankruptcy, or going home to an abusive situation.

I smile warmly, tell a joke or two, and offer sixty minutes to sweat, burn calories, and strive for buns of steel or washboard abs.

However, my Active Living fitness classes are different. I choose to dress more casually, move slower, be gentle and offer undivided attention. I take my time and greet each person individually. I thank them for attending and tell them how happy I am that they are there.

These participants are not striving for whittled waistlines and toned arms. They are joyous, kind, and happy to be in a community of like-minded people. They have grown to care for one another. When they pass each other on the street, they wave and smile.

My goal is to meet people where they are at.

The Active Living Program

Sometimes I think I get more out of helping others, than perhaps they get from being helped.

My point is, I see you too.

“Everyone has untold stories of pain and sadness that make them love and live differently than each of us.”

We do what we can…

We try to see past the differences of others—appearances, behaviours, and sadly, those who are impoverished, addicted and physically, mentally, and emotionally unwell. I like to think that we are all looking and striving to see inside.

We Do Our Best

We volunteer at food banks, shelters, give to the homeless, and try our best not to judge. We pray and hope for change. We are advocates. We picket, write letters, and get involved. We are annoyed at bureaucratic policies and wealthy politicians. We vote and follow the rules and protocols.

We worry, worry, worry and…

We feel fortunate to have a roof over our head, food on our table, a job, shoes, and at least one person, if not a handful of people, who love us, and we reciprocate that love.

We inhabit this earth with other humans.

Can we say we are all in the same boat?

No, probably not.

Some of us are on big cruise liners. Others take speed boats, rowboats, kayaks, or a little rubber dingy. Maybe we are floating aimlessly around in a life preserver. And sometimes, we are flailing around, about to go under with nothing keeping us afloat at all.

It is hard to live on this planet without feeling guilty or getting angry. Sometimes our empathy causes us great pain and sorrow.
We try to do what is expected of us, and often we go above and beyond.
It is not easy to follow the rules and do the paperwork when sometimes even getting out of bed and brushing our teeth is hard.

But what if…
What if we were poorly treated and abused as a child, had mental health issues, were physically disabled, had PTSD, or suffered a tremendous loss? Imagine waking up every morning soaking wet and freezing cold. Alone.

And now, imagine each of the above-described people filling out their income tax, making a dentist appointment, getting a job, or walking into a coffee shop for a piece of pie to check Facebook on their iPhone…

Perhaps my analogy makes the crisis of homelessness a little easier to understand. Life is hard. And yet, way harder for others.
By no means am I trying to guilt-trip us or make us feel bad in any way.
I know we are mostly good, and we are trying.

We care.
We are gentle.
We are kind.

Sometimes we are afraid.
I feel safe and confident in saying that I am describing you.
When we genuinely love people, we must meet them where they are, not where we think they should be. We must give them what they need, not what we think they need.

Karen’s writing comes from life experience. She grew up in a home where there was much love and joy. But, there were also mental health issues. She has attended Al anon and A.A. meetings and worked at The Maple Ridge Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. She went to college as a single mom living in low-income housing and graduated from Douglas College as a Special Needs Teaching Assistant. Since Covid, Karen’s marginalized fitness classes have been put on hold; she volunteers weekly teaching zoom fitness classes for residents at a senior home and reads to them.
Karen has written two award-winning memoirs and writes blogs about family issues, alcohol addiction, trauma, grief, and trying to find the good in people.

For more information on Karen’s Blogs and Books go to; karenharmon.com

“If laughter is the best medicine, then crying is an important vitamin.”

I welcome your comments

15 Replies to “I Hate the Term “Less Fortunate””

  1. Judgement based on how someone looks is the most awful thing. We do not know their story, their hardships, their hurt. Empathy is such a rare commodity now-a-days unfortunately. Thank you for your enlightenment.

  2. Very Enlightening and Heartwarming. Through your own hardships from years past, you have been able to reach out and do so much for so many!
    And so very true “Laughter is the Best Medicine” we all need more of this right now!

  3. Bravo Karen. Once again, a great read. Your vulnerability is inspiring. Thanks for sharing part of your story, and thanks for sharing your caring, compassionate, loving heart. Everyone needs to read this. PS, I’ll never say “less fortunate” again.

  4. Very enlightening & so true that you probably sometimes get more from the “marginalized” then they get from you although knowing you I would say it goes both ways
    I admire you for giving back but also for writing about it
    If even one person “gives back” as a result of this article then it’s a win win win 🙏🏻🙌🙌🙏🏻

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