On Poverty

Editorial by the Director of HSSQ, Eleni Fakotakis

Eleni Fakotakis-sm

The HSSQ Director, Eleni Fakotakis.

Gandhi said that, ‘’Poverty is the worst form of violence’’.  I could not agree more!  That poverty still exists in Canada when our country is one of the richest is unacceptable.  It is easier to detect in the central boroughs of the city and less evident in the outskirts.  It seems not to pre occupy most people but for those who suffer in poverty’s clutches and wrath, it most certainly causes them great anxiety and emotional pain.  Particularly those who have to make trade offs with respect to whether they will feed their children or pay the rent.  As food banks may be accessible, low income housing is much less accessible, due to limited units and long waiting lists and opportunity way out of reach..

Poverty is hard to measure and has a complicated nature.  I guess in Québec, we have tried to at least define it with the introduction of Bill 112 (An Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion).   To people like Gandhi and others who have tried to analyse poverty, it is not just about the lack of financial means and insufficient food.  In addition to the inability to meet basic needs, it is also about the lack of opportunity.   The definition of poverty in the bill,

’Poverty is to be deprived of the resources, means, choices and power necessary to acquire and to maintain economic self-sufficiency and participation in society’’.

This makes measuring poverty quite a challenge indeed. Particularly because Statistics Canada does not define ‘’poor’’ nor does it estimate the number of poor families and individuals in Canada.   In the past 40 years poverty has been measured by calculating after-tax income and market-basket values depending where in the city one lives.  No measure is perfect and official statistics have varied at any given point in time, citing that the population that is living in poverty is anywhere from 9% to 16% of the population.  While other statistics, depending on who is conducting them, measure poverty between 14% and 20% of the population.

After visiting food bank sites, as well as, Statistics Canada and looking through a multitude of studies and reports out there, the following statements and statistics are quite astonishing and hard to miss:

  • 3 million Canadians are affected by poverty, 1 in 5 are children (600,000 children)
  • 1 in 3 or 33% of children  had at least one parent who worked full time throughout the year in 2008 and still lived in poverty, (Statistics Canada 2008)
  • 3.1 million households pay more than 30% of their income on housing
  • 450,000 – 900,000 Canadians represent the hidden homeless, (Wellesley Institute 2010)
  • Poverty costs the Canadian health care system 7.6 Billion $ per year, (Assoc. of food banks)
  • There is a 21 year difference in life expectancy between people living in the poorest neighbourhood and the wealthiest neighbourhood, (Hamilton Ontario, 2010, McMaster University study)
  • $1 invested in a child before the age of 6, saves $9 in future spending on health, (report on public health in Canada)
  • In 2012,  872,379 Canadians used food banks each month (Association of Food Banks)
  • In Québec, 5% are homeless and sleep on the street
  • 24% of Quebecers received help from a food bank or charity during the year
  • Moisson Montréal allocates to the various boroughs of Montreal between 336,000 kg to 945,000 kg of food annually through non-profit organisations and food banks (2010)

When compared to some other countries, Canada ranks relatively low in terms of doing something concrete to eradicate child poverty (the Early Childhood Education and Care Services “ECEC” measure).

There are many ways that society can help get rid of poverty. Education and a quality of life for all is certainly very important and making sure that there is equal employment opportunities; and equal  remuneration for men and women for equal work, which goes without saying for profit and not-for-profit organisations;  By giving low income employees more tax benefits; ensuring better compliance measures are in place with respect to child support after separation or divorce; ensuring more daycare spaces so single parents or moms can work; giving greater child supplements to low income families; increasing social housing units; higher supplements to the elderly and to individuals with intellectual and or physical limitations; giving more money to non-profit organisations who seem to know and to help their clients more effectively; combating corruption, thereby making more money available  for social programs, to name a few.

Thanks to Moisson Montréal, to the donations from the students of École Socrates-Démosthène  and to some private food donations, since 2005, our service – the Hellenic Social Services of Québec of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montréal – iscontributing to the fight against poverty through our two weekly food bank distributions in Parc-Extension and in Chomedey, Laval.  We take this responsibility very seriously, especially when we see very young adults tangled in the web of poverty.  We do our utmost to get them back on their feet right away and not to rely on the food bank for long.  When I met Isabelle (not her real name), my heart sank.  She came to me in tears.  At 21 years of age with no hope in her eyes, she was overwhelmed, tired and alone.  She could have been my daughter… she was definitely someone’s daughter. Each member of my team and I listened intently to her story, then we all helped her to deal with each one of her particular challenges.  Within two months Isabelle had found a job and was back on her feet, paying her rent and dealing much better with the loss of her friend.  We were there for her and believed in her ability to help herself.  She has since come back to volunteer her services from time to time to give back to others some of the wellness she achieved.

This kind of support is absolutely necessary in helping to get people back on their feet and out of poverty.  Through our food-bank service, we offer non-perishable food to low income families and individuals of all origins.   We serve approximately 240 individuals or 100 homes monthly.  Roughly 37 % of our food-bank clients are children.  50% of our clients live alone.  Many are vulnerable (they are individuals or immigrants with low-paying or unstable jobs, elderly who are isolated, people who suffer from psycho-social problems or intellectual limitations).  14% of our food bank clients in Montreal are elderly, while in Laval they represent 8% of our food-bank clients.  In Laval, 31% of our food-bank clients are single-parent families, while in Montreal this category represents only 15% of our clients.  In Laval we have a larger number of younger adults between 31 and 44, while in Montreal the largest age group we serve is between 45 and 64.  Most of our food-bank families are couples with children (26%), while in Laval couples with children represent only 11% of the food-bank clients.  Among our Parc-Extension food-bank clientele, we also find that 11% are couples without children, while this group does not exist among our Laval food bank clients.

We are reaching out to the community for perishable food items such as milk, eggs, fish and poultry.  We are also seeking volunteers to help out during food-bank activity and are appealing to the general public for the donation of a van that is necessary in order to collect food donations, as ours broke down beyond repair.  We have been unable to obtain any government or regular private funding in order to stabilise and to guarantee our food-bank distribution services in Montreal and Laval.  This is where YOU come into the picture, we need your help!  Nelson Mandela said ‘’…that it is in our hands to change the world and to make it a better place…’’