Poverty Affects All of Us

By Sarah Nunweiler, United Way Volunteer Writer
Story featured in United Way’s 2010/11 Annual Report

Many Saskatoonians are familiar with the struggles and images of poverty in third world countries.  What we may be less familiar with are the faces of poverty in our own community: on doorsteps and street corners, at the food bank and even in our neighbourhoods and workplaces. 

There is no clear cut definition for this distressing life circumstance.  Poverty does not discriminate: thousands of our fellow community members struggle daily to pay for the basic necessities they need to survive - food, shelter and clothing amongst them.  Poverty is not a choice: it is a cruel reality that many will never truly understand until we are faced with it ourselves.

Take Vanessa for example.  Raised in an upper middle class family with all the comforts of everyday life, her family had a nice home, fancy cars and went on annual Hawaiian vacations.  It wasn’t until she awoke one day in poverty that she understood what it really meant.

As Vanessa puts it into words, “we can’t view poverty simply as a financial issue.  It means having less access to resources and supports which can make you feel powerless and marginalized from the rest of society.”

Much like its definition, the solution to poverty isn’t clear either.  It will take a lot of hard work, time and the resources of many local organizations working together, but it will also require the involvement and understanding of the community, as no level of poverty is acceptable anywhere. 

The Poverty Reduction Strategy is working toward a ‘made in Saskatoon’ solution to tackle poverty and to change how it is perceived by the community.  The strategy is coordinated by a partnership that includes the United Way, Saskatoon Health Region, City of Saskatoon, Anti-Poverty Coalition, CUISR and Saskatoon Regional Intersectoral Committee along with a broader group which includes school boards, other levels of government and stakeholders.

“Before, each organization was only working on one piece of the puzzle.  We needed to join forces to put all of the pieces together to see the big picture, to develop a common vision,” explains Christine Thompson, Director of Community Impact at the United Way, who helps lead the strategy.

Vanessa represents ‘first voice’ in the group and explains “that it is important for people living in poverty to have their voices heard in the discussions that affect their lives.  In the past, many assumptions were made on our behalf, and this is the first time we’ve been asked to the table to discuss what kind of help and supports we need.”

A less understood fact that the strategy and Vanessa wish to stress is that poverty doesn’t just affect those living in it.  It impacts the entire community through increased crime rates and decreased childhood wellness, for a start.  Addressing poverty is the “responsibility of a responsible community” explains Vanessa, who provides the same ‘Poverty 101’ lecture to students at the University of Saskatchewan.

“The change in perception has to come from people’s hearts.  Those who see that there is a wrong and want to change it.”


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