The push for a national poverty plan

A brown paper bag with an apple in it will not fill a stomach for long. But those who took part in a national campaign yesterday hope it will prompt people to consider other ways to help the hungry around the country.

A brown paper bag with an apple in it will not fill a stomach for long.

But those who took part in a national campaign yesterday hope it will prompt people to consider other ways to help the hungry around the country.

Students and volunteers took an hour yesterday afternoon to hand out the bags at Yukon College, on Main Street and at the Kwanlin Dun health centre.

Similar “Chew on this” campaigns took place around the country as part of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The group is encouraging the federal government to create a national poverty action plan.

“Hunger in Canada is now clearly more than a good issue: it’s about the general cost of living in light of insufficient incomes and social supports,” said Leilani Farha, executive director of Canada Without Poverty in a statement about the event.

“We’re never going to solve hunger and poverty in Canada through charitable acts like food donations – we need federal leadership and an action plan.”

Thursday’s event coincides with this year’s Poverty and Homelessness Action Week.

As of July 2013, 540 households were on the Whitehorse Food Bank registry. That’s 1,188 individuals, including 353 children.

From 2012 to 2013 the local “no fixed address” outreach van has seen an increase of 19 per cent in the number of clients coming to them for help.

The Yukon Food for Learning Association provided 43,874 meals to Whitehorse students between August 2012 and June 2013.

But those numbers aren’t just numbers, they’re people.

That’s the message behind this year’s action week.

At a kickoff event Wednesday, organizers with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition encouraged people to step beyond how they normally imagine poverty and homelessness.

This year’s theme is “Can you see me?” It’s meant to allude to the less visibly poor.

“We don’t see women and children on the street,” coalition co-chair Charlotte Hrenchuk used as an example. “They’re finding shelters or just hanging on by the skin of their teeth, holding down three minimum wage jobs.”

The statistics on poverty in the territory have not shifted much over the years, the group says.

“This is the eighth annual Poverty and Homelessness Action Week and I would like to say it’s going to be the last one. But that’s not realistic,” said coalition co-chair Bill Thomas.

While everyone agrees there is no simple solution, recognizing that there are people suffering is an important step, said organizers.

“Behind every story there is a pathway that person owns,” said co-ordinator Kate Mechan. “And we owe it to that person not to jump to stereotypes.”

Hrenchuk agreed, adding that Whitehorse residents are always willing to rise to a challenge.

“Whitehorse presents itself as a caring community,” she said. “When issues come up, we rally. Things like when a house burns down. But when it comes to the long haul, we don’t rate that as high.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com