Stuck in a rut
Cycle of poverty hard to break
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).
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.”