Islanders share their struggles to escape poverty

A public meeting in Charlottetown Tuesday night heard stories from Islanders living on a low income, and worked toward a strategy to reduce poverty in the province.

'It's very powerful for people in the room to hear from individuals with lived experience'

Alex Watts told the meeting he was on his own at a young age and it was a long struggle to get his life on track. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

A public meeting in Charlottetown Tuesday night heard stories from Islanders living on a low income, and worked toward a strategy to reduce poverty in the province.

It was part of a series of public meetings held by the Poverty Reduction Advisory Council.

At a packed house at the Murphy Centre in Charlottetown Tuesday night Bonnie Lafferty was one of a number of people who shared her experience. She is a single mother who had to give up work because of a lack of childcare available that would cover shift work.

"We need help. I think that is the biggest thing, is help us find a way to get out of the system because nobody really wants to be there." she said.

She is still on social assistance.

Bonnie Lafferty gets emotional when she talks about how hard it is to find child care if you need to work shift work. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

"It's really hard, I actually don't make enough in order to cover my rent, and my rent really isn't that high for the Charlottetown area. My rent is $860 for a three-bedroom apartment which is a really good rent for this area," she said.

"The assistance, even though I have three people in the house, they only cover about $750, which is like a single-person place."

'I just fell into that trap'

Alex Watts described how his life on his own got off to a bad start.

"I was expelled from school I was living on my own at a very young age, I was about 19, my first time living on my own. And I just fell into that trap of just being on assistance, never thinking that I could work, never thinking that I could go to school, never thinking I could have anything," he said. 

"A lot of the times it would be like, you know, you might buy food once for the whole month and you might be only be able to spend 50 or 60 dollars and you've got to make it last."

After a long struggle, Watts is working now and is preparing to return to school.

'I still live that way'

Gina Younker sits on The Poverty Reduction Advisory Council, and has her own stories about trying to raise a family with the support of government programs.

"It was horrible for my kids growing up. I tried to tap into as many programs as I could," she said 

"It's hard when every single dime — I mean every single dime — [it's] whether or not you're going to put oil in your house, or you're going to put food on your table. And I still live that way. My kids are grown up and it's still hard for me to put groceries on the table."

She thinks Islanders working together is key.

Gina Younker sits on The Poverty Reduction Advisory Council, and also speaks from shared experience. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

"It's not just about government. Yes, absolutely government is going to play a stronger role, but government also has to accept that they aren't the be all and end all of it either, that we all have to work together as a society," she said.

Council chair Roxanne Carter-Thompson said she is pleased with the turnout to the meetings so far. She said having a mix of people hear stories from those affected by the system can itself promote change. 

"It's very powerful for people in the room to hear from individuals with lived experience to understand why that woman's not working…and to hear that she wants to be working but she's not because she doesn't have access to the child care for her daughter because she would need to work late hours." she said

"That makes people think about, OK, so what do we need to do to solve that problem? And then it becomes a community issue and then we work together collaboratively to solve our own issues."

Extensive public consultation

The series of six meetings began last week in Kings County. Before the meetings the council heard from private groups and public surveys. Out of that information, five areas were identified for the strategy to focus on. 

  • Housing.
  • Employment and wages.
  • Food security.
  • Social services and supports.
  • Health services.

There are two more meetings this week:

  • O'Leary – Wednesday at the Community Centre in the Fire Hall (18 Community Street), 6:30 p.m.
  • Summerside, Thursday at Community Connections (701 Water Street), 6:30 p.m.

The final action plan is set to be released this fall.

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About the Author

Natalia Goodwin

Video Journalist

Natalia is a video journalist in P.E.I. She has also worked for CBC N.L.