the price of poverty

With the well-demonstrated enthusiasm and energy of more than 2,000 young people here before us in Whitehorse competing and performing at the Arctic Winter Games, it is not hard to be optimistic about this coming generation of northern leaders and decisio

With the well-demonstrated enthusiasm and energy of more than 2,000 young people here before us in Whitehorse competing and performing at the Arctic Winter Games, it is not hard to be optimistic about this coming generation of northern leaders and decision makers.

Opportunities abound for these talented, self-motivated athletes and artists. But what about the tens of thousands of youth back in their home communities? Are their futures as bright?

For too many of our youth, poverty limits their horizons. I remember one young man, a former Whitehorse high school student, plaintively telling me he fully expected to be living on the street after he left school. Regrettably, stories of Yukon youth ending up mired in poverty in places of despair, like the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, are not uncommon. Growing up in poverty can handicap anyone.

Campaign 2000, the nationwide public education movement created to build Canadian awareness of and support for the 1989 all-party House of Commons resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000, stated in its 2011 report card on child poverty that one in 10 children in Canada still live in poverty.

The percentage are significantly higher if you look at particular slices of Canadian society such as recent immigrants or First Nations communities. Campaign 2000 reports that one in three children of female-headed, single-parent families live in poverty. Across the North our poverty figures, more than likely, considerably exceed the national average.

Yukon initiatives, like the Kids Recreation Fund, have attempted to help disadvantaged children and youth participate in organized sport, cultural and other recreational programs. However, the need has apparently often surpassed the funds available. As well, this effort tries to address only one small piece of the poverty conundrum.

Governmental anti-poverty initiatives across the country recognize that a fundamental rethinking of our traditional “welfare” approach to poverty must take place. John Rook, chair of the National Council of Welfare, an independent body established to advise the federal government on poverty, has stated that “the way forward is practical and within our grasp, building on what we have and know already.”

His organization’s recent report, The Dollars and Sense of Poverty, notes that “in 2007, the amount it would have taken for every Canadian to have an income over the poverty line was $12.6 billion. The consequences of poverty that year added up to almost double that amount.”

Preventative efforts reduce the costs of poverty across the board.

“Stable housing costs less than shelter, ambulance, police, hospital and other bills resulting from homelessness. Similarly, basic medicine costs far less than emergency wards where people end up when they can’t afford medicine. This pattern can be found in the justice system, education, employment, business and other areas” as its Sept. 28 news release at www.ncw.gc.ca notes.

A recent evaluation of supported-housing programs for people with mental health issues in five Canadian cities by the Canadian Mental Health Commission, reported on in the recent Second Opinion Society newsletter, came up with some interesting statistics that mirror the National Council of Welfare findings.

“The cost per person of investing in supported housing comes to $13,000 to $18,000 annually, while the cost of traditional institutional programs (psychiatric hospitals, prisons) comes to an estimated $60,000 to $120,000 annually.”

As the old saying by Benjamin Franklin goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition members recently heard talk of renewed Yukon government interest in exploring the guaranteed annual income or negative income tax concept as a way of lifting Yukoners out of poverty. It makes sense and cents to rethink our approach to poverty here and across the North.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.