Randy Hatfield

Anti-poverty activist Randy Hatfield is pushing for a living wage for people in Saint John that would see people paid between $15 and $17 an hour. (CBC)

Raising the minimum wage in New Brunswick is one idea that has been getting support at a series of meetings aimed at tackling poverty in the province.

Anti-poverty advocate Randy Hatfield has been working with an accountant to come up with a so-called living wage.

Hatfield says a living wage would reflect the real cost of living with dignity, giving one the means to afford a warm and safe apartment, proper nutrition and access to childcare.

In Saint John, "I think we are looking at between 15 and 17 dollars is probably the number we will crunch," said Hatfield, executive director of the Saint John Human Development Council.

The series of a dozen public meetings staged by the provincial government is designed to set a new strategy to combat poverty for the next five years. To date, more than 2,000 people have participated The final meeting takes place Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Willie O'Ree Place in Fredericton.

On Oct. 1, a four per cent increase to social assistance rates went into effect, with another increase scheduled to happen in April.

Juanita Black thinks increasing social assistance is moving in the right direction, but says the working poor are still poor.

"Yeah, great, I have a job and it's part-time but I'm not getting very far ahead," said Black. "I'm out of that deep, deep poverty that I was in before and now I'm thinking, `Now I'm just a poor worker.'"

Barry Galloway, co-ordinator of Vibrant Communities Saint John, believes the input gathered at the meeting will help form a new strategy to reduce poverty and be ready for implementation in the spring.

"We know that next year there is going to be an election in the fall," said Galloway. "We wanted to get the poverty reduction done so it remains uppermost in people's minds, before the election."

Kevin Standing has been though four major organ transplants and was one of about 100 people who attended Wednesday's meeting in Saint John. He sees an urgency for action.

"We expect things to be done for us, and if we don't rise to the occasion and get things going, you have to jump out of your comfort zone to get things done," said Standing.

Janet Hooper also attended Wednesday's meeting at the Carleton Community Centre, located in one of the poorest areas of a city where almost a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

"It's hard," said Hooper. "I don't have a lot of positive things to say about the City of Saint John, sorry.

"We have a lot of drugs. If that was cleaned up a bit, I think we'd do a hell of a lot better."

The province's anti-poverty plan must be renewed every five years in accordance with the Economic and Social Inclusion Act.