HANDS ACROSS THE BRIDGE — Concerned citizens stand hand-in-hand and try to span the Broadway Bridge. “This is to demonstrate our solidarity with those who live in poverty on the east side of the city; to affirm that poverty is a violation of human rights; and that we come together to assure that those rights are respected,” said Vanessa Charles, co-chair of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
Poverty Awareness Week marked in Saskatoon
By Kiply Lukan Yaworski
SASKATOON — Poverty Awareness Week was marked in Saskatoon Oct. 14-21 with a range of activities that included panels, performances, and discussions, as well as the grand opening of a long-awaited community enterprise centre and co-operative grocery store in the city’s core neighbourhood.
Station 20 West officially opened Oct. 17, with the grand opening of Good Food Junction co-operative grocery held in the same building a few days later. Other tenants and services at Station 20 West will include the Child Hunger and Education Program (CHEP) community kitchens and nutrition programs, an affordable housing development group, a mother’s centre and a “kids’ first” program.
“We have seen the dream of an oasis in the middle of a food desert fulfilled,” said Vanessa Charles, co-chair of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition, reflecting on the opening of Station 20 West and the Good Food Junction store. A Rock the Roxy fundraiser for the Station 20 West project was also part of Poverty Awareness Week 2012.
Co-ordinated by the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition, the awareness week also included events such as a pancake breakfast, a brown bag luncheon and a Friendship Inn community supper, as well as an Empowering Voices evening at St. Mary parish hall Oct. 18.
During a Hands Across the Bridge demonstration Oct. 19, concerned citizens gathered to stand hand-in-hand and try to span the Broadway Bridge “in solidarity for prosperity and inclusion for all.”
“This is to demonstrate our solidarity with those who live in poverty on the east side of the city; to affirm that poverty is a violation of human rights; and that we come together to assure that those rights are respected,” said Charles, saying the event honours those who are affected by poverty, violence and hunger.
“We frequently hear our city being described as prosperous, and I ask the question: how can that be when every day too many of our citizens are challenged and threatened by lack of food and adequate shelter.
They live in precarious, degraded and insecure living environments. Many feel invisible and silenced,” she said.
“More and more people who have experienced a relatively comfortable life in the middle class are now living below the poverty line, as their income cannot keep up with the ever-increasing costs of housing and food.”
Bishop Donald Bolen of the Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon was the honorary
chair of Poverty Awareness Week. He reflected on the challenges faced
by many in our communities who are experiencing poverty. “The poor
in our midst include a significant number of children. They include seniors,
low wage earners, Aboriginal peoples, newly arrived refugees and immigrants,
and those with disabilities,” he said.
“Join a support group working to reduce and eliminate poverty; challenge myths and stereotypes about poverty; discuss poverty solutions with others; support policies that help to address poverty,” he suggested. “Now is the moment to address the reality of poverty and to do so in creative ways which build up community and sow seeds of hope in the lives of all.”
Before the Hands Across the Bridge event Oct. 19, Rev. Jon Hansen, pastor of St. Mary Parish in the city’s core neighbourhood, noted the growth and abundance experienced in many ways in the province and the city.
“It is because of this abundance that we are in a unique position to reflect deeply on what it means to be prosperous,” said Hansen. “This week of poverty awareness, highlighted by many activities but particularly by listening to the voices of those who are poor, reminds us that the most important factor in determining true prosperity is not the financial heights we achieve but whether we are able to raise the bar at the lowest level of our economic spectrum.”
It is time to look candidly at the problems faced by so many, he said. “I am happy to add my voice to those who believe that a truly prosperous community includes everyone.”
“From poverty to possibility to prosperity” is the slogan of the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership, said Amanda Clark of an association that includes the Saskatoon Health Region; the United Way; the City of Saskatoon; the University of Saskatchewan Institute for Social Research; the Ministry of Social Services; Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration; Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools; and a number of faith communities, as well as the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
Clark said the partnership is working on three priorities: reducing homelessness, engaging more business and faith communities in poverty reduction efforts, and supporting Aboriginal programs and services. Strategies include: encouraging dialogue, sharing finances, equipment, food and so on; and concrete action, including political involvement.
“As a community, we need to move beyond Poverty Awareness Week to Poverty Awareness Every Day,” Clark said.
Finally, Patrick Lake, a member of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition, spoke about the increasing hopelessness he feels as someone living in poverty.
“To me, prosperity is just a dream,” he said. “Disability and the dark shadows of poverty have all but cut the heartline of hope that I tried for years like a lifeline to hold fast to.”