Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 29, 1999
Rally against child poverty
Churches join other groups to demand end to poverty
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Children living in poverty can't pinpoint the reason they can't always bring a full lunch to school or go on a class field trip to the museum. They can't recite statistics or blame government funding and legislatures for their woes. But they do know one thing.
"In a child's vernacular . . . poverty sucks," said Candice Furneaux, a family liaison with the Edmonton School Lunch Program. "That's what the kids say; that's what they know about being poor."
Furneaux was among a list of speakers at a noon-hour rally held Nov. 24 at City Hall to call for an end to child poverty. And it's not the poverty in Third World or war-torn countries they were decrying. They were rallying to end child poverty in their own home and native land - Canada.
"You don't have to go to Nicaragua to see (poverty)," said Deanna Shorten, the event organizer. "Some people don't want to see it, but it happens here too."
The rally, which coincided with rallies across the country, began with a candlelight vigil at Canada Place the previous evening. More than 60 people attended the City Hall event.
In Ottawa, a candlelight vigil drew more than 200 people, including four Catholic bishops, to Parliament Hill.
The bishops, Bishop James Weisgerber (Saskatoon), Bishop Raymond Dumais (Gaspe), Bishop Jean Gagnon (auxillary bishop of Quebec) and Bishop Donald J. Theriault (military) were joined by former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
Sponsors of the Edmonton event include the archdiocesan Social Justice Commission and Poverty in Action.
The event proceeds a public hearing, Nov. 25, where the Social Justice Commission will address city council on local poverty concerns.
Also attending the rally were Liberal MLAs Linda Sloan and Howard Sapers, provincial NDP leader Pam Barrett, Senator Doug Roche, and city Councillor Michael Phair.
The rally marks the 10th anniversary of a unanimously approved House of Commons resolution to eliminate child poverty by 2000. The resolution was introduced by Broadbent who "believed it could happen."
"An earlier generation - just before I arrived on Parliament Hill - did it for senior citizens," Broadbent said to the crowd in Ottawa.
Yet a decade after the resolution was passed, the child poverty rate has doubled.
And though it was the government which offered poverty-eliminating plans like child tax benefits, governments were also responsible for social service cuts.
According to Statistics Canada, 7,586 children were living in extreme poverty in Edmonton in 1993. In 1997, that number increased to 15,816.
Shorten, also coordinator of Poverty in Action, defines a child living in poverty as one who lacks the basic necessities, including clothing, shelter and access to recreational activities.
"It's the things that make a kid a kid," Shorten said.
Clare Botsford came to the rally to show support for a cause she knows first hand. She grew up in the Depression and remembers the pangs of hunger that plagued her during childhood.
"I remember wearing socks on our hands when it got cold," she said. "And going through the trash looking for food."
She never imagined such poverty could linger so long.
"I still know people who are hungry," she said turning away to cry. "They shouldn't be hungry."
There are no overnight ways to eliminate child poverty, but it's not as difficult as some perceive, said Shorten. She suggests increasing child tax benefits for lower-income families, boosting the numbers of respectable paying jobs, providing support for stay-at-home parents and offering more child-care options.
The price of increasing social programs is also far less significant than the long-term cost to taxpayers.
Poverty is generational, said Shorten. Increased poverty creates an unhealthy society with less educated people, more crime and more welfare recipients.
"It costs more to live in poverty than it does to live in a middle class (environment)," Shorten said. "There's a lot of rundown houses in the inner city with poor insulation. Their heating bill might be twice as much as a middle-income person who lives in a newer house with better insulation."
Another strange irony for Furneaux is the more money is raised for the city's lunch program, the worse the poverty becomes.
"We're getting more money in and we hope to add another two schools to the program. But it's also sad because that means more children are needing it.
"People should be able to buy food in supermarkets . . . not through band-aid solutions like this."
Shorten hopes the rally will send a message to the public and to Parliament "that enough is enough. They have a surplus this year. Let's start looking at our priorities.
"If we don't use that money for this now, we'll be building more jails and social programs later. It will be a mess."