Fredericton's poverty problem 'absolutely shocking'
Coun. Mike O'Brien says more needs to be done to help citizens struggling to pay their bills
Fredericton is facing a significant problem when it comes to combating poverty and a city councillor is calling on all levels of government to find solutions to help people who are struggling to make ends meet.
Coun. Mike O’Brien, the chairperson of the city’s community services committee, said on Wednesday he doesn’t think many Fredericton residents understand how big of a problem poverty is in the city.
O’Brien said there is enough money in the community to help address the poverty problem, but many groups are finding it difficult to get traction with different levels of government to make it a priority.
“The community has to rise up and tell their elected officials that this isn’t acceptable in a country as rich as ours,” he said on CBC’s Information Morning Fredericton.
The councillor said he’s taken a personal interest in finding ways to tackle the poverty issue in Fredericton. He said it is difficult for a city to come up with potential solutions without overstepping its normal boundaries.
O’Brien said the city has a long list of infrastructure projects that are looking for funding. Further, the provincial government has been ratcheting back funds earmarked for cities.
In 2012, the New Brunswick government announced cuts to the unconditional grant program that sliced Fredericton’s share of the transfer payment by nearly $4 million over three years.
It’s clearly a provincial responsibility to provide housing and social services, but the people on the street, the people in need, the people who are sending their children to school hungry they just want help, they don’t care whose responsibility it is.- Coun. Mike O'Brien
O’Brien said it’s difficult for the city to be adding new costs by wading into areas of provincial jurisdiction when it is receiving fewer dollars.
“Should the city invest in those [infrastructure projects] to help grow the city or should the city divert some money … which is a slippery slope and provide maybe some outreach work on the street to help the care providers that are there,” he said.
“That’s not where property tax money is supposed to go, it is supposed to go to roads and streets and fire and police. It’s clearly a provincial responsibility to provide housing and social services, but the people on the street, the people in need, the people who are sending their children to school hungry they just want help, they don’t care whose responsibility it is.”
School lunch program
O’Brien’s comments come a day after a Leo Hayes High School teacher and an official with the Fredericton Community Kitchen discussed the growing demand for a lunch program at local schools.
Dana McDade, a board member at the Fredericton Community Kitchen, said the program that delivers lunches to Leo Hayes High School started after a local donation but it grew quickly.
“Since Christmas, we have delivered enough lunches every day for 60 kids at Leo Hayes and have since expanded to include three other schools, Nashwaaksis Middle School, Liverpool Elementary and Devon Middle School,” McDade said.
“The community kitchen is now delivering 132 lunches per day.”
I find it shocking, I find it absolutely shocking that we have that many kids who are hungry.- Kim Lightfoot
She said the program is only able to reach the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to helping students who are going to school hungry.
Kim Lightfoot, a chemistry teacher at Leo Hayes High School, became involved with setting up the initial project after she was abruptly made aware of the problem at her school by a student.
“In my Grade 11 chemistry class, I had a student who came into my class and said, ‘Mrs. Lightfoot, today is a wonderful day.’ I took the bait and I said, ‘What makes today a wonderful day?’ And he explained how he got up that morning and his mother made a wonderful breakfast and they really enjoyed this great breakfast,” she said on Tuesday.
“I was still waiting and a little puzzled and essentially I said, ‘So you had breakfast and that’s what makes it such a wonderful day?’ And he said, ‘You don’t understand, normally there is no food at my house, so yes, today is a very special day.'"
After that encounter with her student, Lightfoot spoke to others to get a better understanding of many students were coming to her school hungry each day.
That's when the project started with the Fredericton Community Kitchen.
"I find it shocking, I find it absolutely shocking that we have that many kids who are hungry," she said.