Stuck in a rut

Cy­cle of poverty hard to break

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENISE PIKE

When San­dra, a sin­gle mother from Con­cep­tion Bay North heard that one in nine chil­dren in Canada live in poverty, she wasn’t sur­prised.

“My son is among them,” she said. “I used to be one of those num­bers and now he is.”

The re­sults of the 2009 Re­port Card on Child and Fam­ily Poverty in Canada, re­leased Nov. 24 by the Na­tional Aware­ness Group Cam­paign 2000 stated some 637,000 Cana­dian chil­dren are still liv­ing be­low the poverty line.

San­dra says she was born in poverty and can’t see her bleak sit­u­a­tion im­prov­ing any­time soon.

The 20 year-old says she has been stuck in the cy­cle of wel­fare all her life.

“My mom raised me on it, not that she wanted to, she just didn’t have a choice. She got preg­nant with me when she was just 16, her par­ents kicked her out and my dad took off shortly af­ter.”

Al­though San­dra says she missed hav­ing a fa­ther fig­ure in her life, her three-year-old son is grow­ing up the same way.

“His dad left me last year,” she says. “He had a lot of is­sues and I just couldn’t han­dle it any­more, so I kicked him out and he hasn’t been back since. He hasn’t given me a cent in child sup­port ei­ther. My so­cial worker is han­dling that for me.”

San­dra says her an­nual in­come, a com­bi­na­tion of So­cial As­sis­tance and the monthly Child Tax Credit comes to about $12,000.

When the cost of rent, heat and light and her cell phone bill is sub­tracted not a lot is left over for food.

“I do what I can, I mean my son doesn’t go without food, but it’s noth­ing fancy. The last days be­fore the cheque comes are pretty lean.”

When she does run out of food, San­dra goes to The Help­ing Hand food bank in Bay Roberts.

“ Thank God they’re there,” she says. “ They have pulled me out of a few hard sit­u­a­tions from time to time.”

San­dra says some of the lo­cal churches of­ten drop off food ham­pers and last Christ­mas her son got a few toys from the Happy Tree.

“It all helps,” she said. “It’s not that I’m proud or want to be liv­ing this way, but I have no other choice. I’m stuck in a rut. I’m just glad there are peo­ple out there who care.”

To make mat­ters worse a few weeks ago San­dra’s son was di­ag­nosed with a se­vere At­ten­tion Deficit Dis­or­der (ADD).

“I’ve got to look for some kind of help for him so I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to need money for that too,” she says. “Un­til I can get him straight­ened out and in school, there’s no point in even looking for work. Right now his be­hav­iour is not the best, so get­ting a baby sit­ter will be im­pos­si­ble and if I did go to work, most of my pay would have to go to­wards pay­ing a sit­ter. To tell the truth I’m way bet­ter off fi­nan­cially by stay­ing at home.”

Iron­i­cally, San­dra was born the very year the fed­eral gov­ern­ment passed an all-party dec­la­ra­tion pledg­ing to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.

Twenty years later, 15 per cent of Cana­dian chil­dren still live in poverty.

For­tu­nately, ac­cord­ing to the re­port card, this prov­ince’s poverty rate (13.0 per cent) is the third low­est in Canada, slightly be­hind Al­berta (11.2 per­cent) and Prince Ed­ward Is­land (8.3 per cent).

Help­ing Hand

Al­though the prov­ince has made some progress in ad­dress­ing child poverty, Dar­lene Kear­ley, man­ager of The Help­ing Hand in Bay Roberts, is still as busy as ever. The food bank, lo­cated on Pat­ter­son’s Street, helps about 1,100 fam­i­lies from Marys­vale to Bryant’s Cove each year.

Kear­ley spent last week pro­cess­ing re­quest/applications for Christ­mas ham­pers.

“ This time of year is re­ally busy for those of us who work and vol­un­teer here,” she said. “And with the win­ter months com­ing it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to get busier.”

Last year The Help­ing Hand dis­trib­uted about 100 ham­pers per month, Kear­ley is al­ready see­ing that num­ber in­crease.

“ We gave out 127 ham­pers in Novem­ber, that’s about a 25 per cent in­crease over last Novem­ber,” she says.

The man­ager says many of the peo­ple who use the food bank are sin­gle moth­ers like San­dra, how­ever she also helps a lot of low-in­come fam­i­lies and el­derly cou­ples.

“ There are quite a num­ber of work­ing fam­i­lies who don’t make a lot of money and find it hard to make ends meet. They of­ten run out of food,” ex­plained Kear­ley. “I also see a num­ber of cou­ples in their late 50’s and early 60’s who do not qual­ify for So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits and are un­able to work be­cause of some med­i­cal con­di­tion. They just don’t have the money to buy food.”

Quick to judge

While New­found­land and Labrador has ex­pe­ri­enced un­prece­dented eco­nomic growth over the past few years, the gap be­tween the rich and the poor ap­pears to be widen­ing.

Kear­ley, who has worked at The Help­ing Hand for over five years, says the num­ber of peo­ple who are liv­ing well be­low the poverty line still shocks her.

“I don’t know how some of them sur­vive on what they have to live on each month,” she said. “ When I see proof of in­come for $ 400 to 500 per month... well it just floors me and I see it far too of­ten. It’s just unreal!”

Kear­ley un­der­stands why the cy­cle of poverty is hard to break.

“Chil­dren are the most in­no­cent vic­tims,” she said. “Be­fore I started work­ing here (The Help­ing Hand) I re­ally didn’t know how preva­lent poverty was and how it af­fects peo­ple, es­pe­cially chil­dren, but now I do. Some of th­ese peo­ple have it re­ally hard, through no fault of their own they have ended up in sit­u­a­tions they can­not get out of and can’t con­trol and it car­ries over to their chil­dren. It’s not that they want to be poor or chose to live in poverty, it’s just that some­times they don’t have the tools and the sup­port needed to change their sit­u­a­tions. Some­times we (so­ci­ety) are quick to judge or crit­i­cize peo­ple who are liv­ing be­low the poverty line for their cir­cum­stances, which in many cases, is out of their con­trol.”

Kear­ley feels more gov­ern­ment pro­grams are needed to help the work­ing poor.

“Many low in­come fam­i­lies work be­cause they value work­ing and want to in­stil a good work ethic in their chil­dren, but in many cases they just can’t get ahead fi­nan­cially, it’s a con­stant strug­gle. I wish there was a bet­ter sys­tem in place, more pro­grams to help th­ese peo­ple and their fam­i­lies.”

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