Local generosity challenges some myths about Canadian perceptions of poverty

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
March 3rd, 2011

Yesterday, the Salvation Army launched its new Dignity Project with an Angus Reid study it had commissioned about public perceptions of poverty in Canada. The research done by the famous pollsters revealed some interesting statistics and a few shocking myths, including the following:

  • Nearly 50 percent of Canadians feel that a family of four could get by on $10,000 – $30,000 per year or less
  • Nearly half of all Canadians feel that if poor people really want to work, they can always find a job
  • Nearly 40 percent believe people who live in poverty in Canada “still have it pretty good”
  • 41 percent believe that the poor would “take advantage” of any assistance given and “do nothing” with support provided
  • About a quarter of Canadians believe that people are poor because they are lazy and have lower moral values than average
  • 96 percent of Canadians believe that everyone deserves a sense of dignity, but only 65 percent believe that being poor can rob you of dignity

In an attempt to educate and to challenge these myths, the Salvation Army’s Dignity Project “is designed to educate the public about the reality of poverty in the 21st century–and underscore the point that everyone deserves basic human dignity.”
The project’s web sitegives some statistics of its own, saying that one in 11 Canadians lives in poverty, and that 1.6 million Canadians receive aid from the Sally Ann every year.
Locally, the Salvation Army operates out of Trail and provides a host of services including a thrift store, a food bank, Kate’s Kitchen in the Gulch which provides hot meals, Meals on Wheels, a “Dinners at Home” program, and it co-runs a 6-mat Extreme Weather Response shelter, called the La Nina Shelter, with the local United Church.
The numbers mentioned above don’t paint Canadians in a very flattering light when it comes to the issue of poverty, but it seems that a different story is playing out in our little corner of the world.
When asked about perceptions of poverty in the Kootenays, Major Wilf Harbin of the Trail Salvation Army says the issue is complex.
“The communities are fairly well off,” he says of the area in general. However, the last year has seen a significant increase in the use of their food bank. “How can a family of four live on $30K per year? That’s rough! Having said that, the people who come now to our food bank are not only the poor, but the working class as well, who find it hard to make ends meet, and that that’s where our increase is found.”
Harbin notes that increases in cost of living – food costs and utility bills in particular – seem to be the main culprit.  
The increased usage of this particular service by working people goes far to debunk the myth that the poor are lazy and that they “do nothing” with the services provided to them, which was also evidenced when I visited the Rossland Food Bank in December. Our Mountain Kingdom food bank sees an average of about 10 weekly users, many of whom are also the working poor who are simply unable to get by on what they make.
Kate’s Kitchen provides hot lunches of soup and sandwiches Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays, and puts out a robust hot dinner at 4:30 PM on Thursdays. According to Harbin, it sees a steady usage of 40 – 45 people per meal. There is no charge for these meals.
If the numbers in the Angus Reid poll appear to paint Canadians as cold towards those in need, Harbin sees little sign of that in this area.
One example is the new shelter, La Nina, which was started by community organizations when they began to see a need for it. So far, this new endeavour has seen successes both on the usage front and on the community support front.
“We’ve had one or two, or sometimes three people stay [at La Nina] every night, but we’ve never been at full capacity,” says Harbin, who points out that the shelter is a pilot project that ends at the close of March. Clients can come to the shelter at 9pm and stay until 8am the next day and are given an evening and a morning snack, but as it is located at the Salvation Army’s church on Second Avenue, the space needs to be vacated every morning for church functions.
“We’re looking for a facility for next year where [clients] won’t have to leave the facility at all. They can come to a shelter and stay there until the weather warms up.”  
While some of the clients have been transients, most of the overall usage has been local.
The support the La Nina has received from the community has been tremendous. “The community is behind us 100%. The neighbours are good and the business sector has been approached and is coming through with donations to the shelter. It’s been absolutely fantastic and well-received.”
According to the Sally Ann’s website, The Dignity Project “is designed to educate the public about the reality of poverty in the 21st century–and underscore the point that everyone deserves basic human dignity.” They go on to say that the project will use traditional advertising, social networking, online events, and on-the-street outreach to try to “engage Canadians about the concept of dignity, and [educate community members] that poverty is a scourge on society that puts dignity out of reach.”
So far, the local branch of the Salvation Army hasn’t any Dignity Project events planned, and as Harbin concurred when I pointed it out, it seems more geared to the online world. Major Harbin did say that depending on how the campaign unfolds it is very conceivable that local church will participate in the project in some way, whether it be by helping out with the ad campaign by putting up posters or hosting a guest speaker.
Harbin concluded our interview by saying that community support for all Salvation Army initiatives in the area is very generous, and that “without community support, we would not be here.”
And it works the other way, too: if there wasn’t a need out there to begin with, the Salvation Army wouldn’t need to be providing the services it does.


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