Giving Goodness: Tackling Poverty in Canada
From January 24th - February 13th, every Goodness Me! location will be hosting a coat drive, collecting coats and jackets of all sizes for those in need in our community. For every coat donated, Goodness Me! will donate one can of organic beans to a local food bank.
Join us as we Give Goodness back to those in need!
Helping Hands Street Mission has made a nice home at the intersection of Barton and Emerald, right down the street from the busiest cardiac surgery hospital in Canada. The organization has lived in Ward 3 since it operated out of the trunk of a car, and has since grown to a free clothing store and a small café. With only two actual employees, Helping Hands is a very small organization; like most street-level charities, they rely on donations.
This means lessening the burden of poverty requires more than just a charity – it requires a community effort. Unfortunately, until the guilt associated with Christmas cheer motivates us to drop a can into a supermarket donation bin, it’s one we spend most of the year ignoring.
Poverty, however, doesn’t go away after December 25th.
The Poverty We Try To Ignore
When you work with people in the lower Wards as Dwayne Cline does, it’s impossible to ignore your surroundings. Cline is a pastor at the Hughson Street Baptist Church, a church that has been a fixture in the lower Wards for 130 years, and he’s seen how the nature of poverty has not just remained a constant, but how it has changed, too.
“A group of us lives in the neighbourhood, and we see it in front of us all the time,” he says. “We see how change affects being displaced.”
The displaced and their need for affordable housing has lead the Hughson Street Baptist Church to partner up with the charity Indwell to build 45 affordable housing apartments. Cline says that while it’s a drop in the bucket right now, any little bit can help. “There are no strings attached, no government waiting list. The apartments are mostly one bedroom with a couple of two bedroom units. It’ll fill up quickly.”
This is because even in a country as wealthy as Canada, poverty is still inescapable. People fall under the poverty line when they make less than $22,133 as a single person, or $38,335 for a family of three;[i] using this guideline, 1.7 million people live in poverty in Ontario.[ii] In a city like Hamilton, for example, the poverty rate is 15.3%, almost one point higher than the provincial average, and 28 years after our Members of Parliament voted unanimously to make eradicating child poverty a priority, one in five children still live in households experiencing poverty.[iii] Children represent almost one-quarter of low-income persons in Canada.[iv]
The social pressures of Ward 3 aren’t easy to see, especially if one rarely ventures out of their neighborhood into the rest of the city for anything more than groceries. This is because in Hamilton, poverty is most prevalent in the lower Wards, one of which Helping Hands calls home. Wards 1 through 5 have an overall poverty rate of 24%, 9 points higher than the city average, and 34% of children in the heart of the city live in poverty.[v] [vi] Ward 3 is one of Hamilton’s most impoverished areas, and since the 1960s has become a textbook case of industrial decline affecting a city. According to Hamilton Spectator reporter Steve Buist’s Code Red series, which highlighted the health disparities between rich and poor in the city, 1 in 3 on Barton Street live in poverty, and 1 in 3 didn’t have a high school diploma.
Compounding all this is the gentrification of downtown core areas. As Hamilton is seen as more of a desirable Toronto-adjacent city, the people who can only afford to live in the lower Wards are pushed out to the suburbs and on the Mountain. Unfortunately, these areas do not have the same resources and community safety nets that the downtown core has. “People are being displaced out of where there is support,” says Dwayne Cline. “They’re pushed to where there are no food banks, affordable housing, and even the education system is different.”
Corrine Hardie is the executive director at the Helping Hands Street Mission, and she says she still encounters a lot of misconceptions about poverty in the community. “Many people think of the poor as immigrants,” she says. This isn’t the case, as many immigrants come over to Canada with a support system in place; their settled beneficiaries are how they were accepted in the first place. “Poverty is rooted in the people who have been born and raised here. Whole neighbourhoods can be completely saturated in it, but if you don’t leave your personal neighourhood, you can easily miss it.”
In many places, the differences aren’t as stark or obvious to those living above the poverty line. The suburban swathes and relative prosperous exterior of Mississauga, Canada’s sixth-most populous municipality, hides a number of unfortunate facts: 19% of children up to the age of six are living in poverty, and the city’s one youth shelter couldn’t accommodate an excess of 450 youths.[vii] Even where the homes are large and plentiful, many families are just one paycheck away from a crisis, even if they aren’t “impoverished” according to provincial standards.
This is where missions like Helping Hands are a necessity, but finding the people to run it is a problem. “Everything is run by donation, and just running everything is a donation of time,” says Hardie. This means that when the holiday season is over, it’s hard to find volunteers. “At Christmas, it’s on everyone’s radar, but we need donations throughout the year. There’s so much need, and no single organization relying solely on donations can meet it all.”
Then there’s the added regulations or “tests” that some community organizations have. To ensure that goods stay in the community, some charities or food banks require potential users to prove they are in need of the service, or live in the community. Helping Hands doesn’t do this – while most of the people who use their services are from the area, they make sure their services don’t discriminate. “We are open to everyone, and we let people from all walks of life get what they need,” says Hardie. To Hardie, living in need is bad enough without purity tests. “It can be humiliating. You have to prove you’re poor enough to need help.”
The importance of missions and charities like Helping Hands is because they do more than give clothing and food to those in need. They act as initial contact for people who need connections. “Our intention is to build relationships,” says Hardie. “We get to know so many new people, and giving something more than a handout – like contacts or work – is something we try to do.”
Despite the city and province getting behind social programs to help combat poverty, such as affordable housing, the community still has to come together. Cline and his church have been fundraising for their apartment project (which is combined with their new church build). The whole cost comes to $17.5 million – thus far they’ve received $6.3 million from the Province, and have raised close to $6 million more on their own.
Many street-level charities and thrift shops also rely on widespread donation drives, and they need these the cooperation of the surrounding community, using the businesses as a hub for donations. “How many corporations can impact so many lives? Even in an organization of 150 people, if every second person brought in one pair, it would stock our shelves for a long time.”
Helping Hands and the Hughson Street Baptist Church can do so much for the community because of the devotion of the people running them. However, so much work needs the community to succeed. Only when people donate to local organizations and recognize the work that needs to be done in their community can work actually get done. Whether it is through clothing drives, volunteering, or money, by depending on the kindness of strangers, they can be kind to strangers in turn.