Nova Scotia

'The depths of the despair': CBC Cape Breton explores poverty in Northside communities

Information Morning Cape Breton visited North Sydney and Sydney Mines to explore the challenges faced by vulnerable people. CBC spoke with people living the experience and the groups and agencies that offer help and support.

'I don't think we have conversations about pride and dignity,' says anti-poverty advocate Dorothy Halliday

Rob Dolomont, a director of the North Sydney Food Bank, is one of the people trying to help vulnerable people in the area. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

Anti-poverty advocate Dorothy Halliday says poverty has reached a crisis state in two of Cape Breton's Northside communities, and people need to mobilize against it in the same way they would respond to a natural disaster.

"The depths of the despair, that's what I've seen really change in the last couple of years. That's a hell of a lot harder to get out of," she told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

This month, Information Morning spent two days in North Sydney and Sydney Mines exploring the challenges faced by vulnerable people, including issues of housing insecurity, food insecurity and poverty. CBC spoke with people living the experience and the groups and agencies that offer help and support.

Besides the need for food and shelter, people spoke about a need for compassion toward those who are struggling.

Halliday is the executive director of Community Cares Youth Outreach in Sydney Mines, a non-profit organization that provides programming and assistance to people living in poverty.

She said the conversation around poverty is missing an important element.

'Pride and dignity'

"We talk about food and we talk about shelter, but I don't think we have conversations about pride and dignity," said Halliday.

Darcy Hemmings recently moved back to Cape Breton from Alberta. He lives in North Sydney and said it's a struggle to find work.

He, his wife and two children are getting by on social assistance and he said sometimes the most difficult part is the way people in his situation are treated.

"You go certain places and people like to judge sometimes," said Hemmings. "You know, the only one who can judge us is God, nobody has the right to judge anybody."

Stigma is also a big issue for people struggling with addictions, said Brenda Jessome. She lives in Sydney Mines and raises money to help struggling addicts with things like food, clothing and transportation.

Lack of compassion

Her daughter was addicted to drugs.

"Nobody has compassion for struggling addicts, nobody," said Jessome. "They treat them like they're nobody and they are, they're somebody ... addiction takes over, but they're still somebody, they're still in there."

In both his work as a Cape Breton Regional Police officer and as lead volunteer with the Clifford Street Youth Centre in North Sydney, Paul Ratchford sees the effects of poverty daily. 

"The collateral damage is, 'Do we have any toothpaste? Do we have any toothbrushes?' I mean, we've got kids who are 10-12 years old who have never had a toothbrush," said Ratchford.

"You know, what's their laundry going to be like? If you can't afford food, well, they're not worried about soap to wash the clothes."

Listen to the interviews below. They are listed in the order they were broadcast.

Please follow the links for the final four episodes in the series.


Nicole MacLennan

Associate producer

Nicole MacLennan is Information Morning Cape Breton's associate producer, responsible for pitching and chasing stories, interviewing and booking guests. She welcomes story ideas and information at

with files from Information Morning