Saint John Needs United Response to Poverty
October 31, 2015 Telegraph Journal
Dr. W. Barry Miller Commentary
Dr. W. Barry Miller's commentary in the Telegraph Journal outlines the need for a united front to a crisis of poverty in Saint John. From the city himself, Dr. Miller discusses his own experience growing up in the city and the desire to see things change for the better.
Saint John is my hometown. I grew up in Portland Place in the north end. I lived in war-time housing on Montgomery Crescent and attended public schools in Saint John. My parents actually took in boarders to help with expenses. On one hand, you might say we didn’t have much in terms of material things but we had the benefit of a warm and loving family. I walked back and forth to school each day including lunch hour. In grades one through five it was to Dufferin School and then from six through nine it was to Princess Elizabeth. I took the city bus to Saint John High School. I have fond memories of a healthy and happy childhood. I still refer to Saint John as home.
Admittedly, it is heart breaking to hear that my home has now the distinction of having the most children, of any jurisdiction in Canada, living in poverty. This is unacceptable. It must be addressed. By whom? All of us. When? Now.
What is poverty?
Poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter. However, poverty is more, much more than just not having enough money.
The World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way:
“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.”
Despite the many definitions, one thing is certain; poverty is a complex societal issue. No matter how poverty is defined, it can be agreed it is an issue that requires everyone’s attention.
There are indications that deep or persistent poverty early in childhood affects adversely the ability and achievement of children.
There is some evidence that low income during the preschool and early school years exhibits the strongest correlation with low rates of high school completion, as compared with low income during the childhood and adolescent years.
The Saint John Human Development Council with Executive Director Randy Hatfield along with Jenny O’Connell, community development coordinator, has done exemplary work in the development of a Child Poverty Report Card. This would be an excellent place to start.
The Dr. Christine Davies Education Centre is also providing leadership through their unique program offerings. First Steps is a residential facility operating in partnership with the community. It offers a supportive environment to young pregnant and parenting women who have no safe place to live assisting them in reaching their full potential.
Another feature of this Centre is an alternative education program designed for young mothers so they can earn their high school diploma.
This worthwhile centre needs our support. Let’s respond.
In fact, since the number of children living in poverty is greater in Saint John than any other jurisdiction in Canada, let’s respond as if the city has been in the path of a major hurricane and needs disaster relief.
If children are not getting adequate nutrition, adequate clothing and adequate shelter let’s respond as if this is an emergency.
This emergency should be addressed by all three levels of government. Over the years, the federal government has responded to countries who have declared a “state of emergency”. This is what we have here. It is imperative that each level of government demonstrates leadership and addresses this crisis. There are immediate steps that can be taken to demonstrate leadership. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development can ensure that adequate educational support services are in place for schools throughout Saint John. No other jurisdiction in New Brunswick would raise an exception to the City of Saint John receiving additional educational support services.
Schools that require this level of response be identified and immediate assistance be forthcoming.
If they need a hot breakfast program, provide one. If they need a hot lunch program provide one.
Call on service clubs, churches, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, corporate sponsors and/or partners and include the private sector.
There needs to be a summit to address child poverty in Saint John.
We know there are difficult issues relating to the cause of poverty, including family breakdown, debt and drug dependency.
We know there will be financial implications for all levels of government. This should never be seen as expenditures without a return. Any money spent will certainly be an investment in these children, their future and our society. We will all reap the benefits.
We have children in need depending on our response. They cannot help themselves; they need us to be their advocate. Let’s do it.
Dr. W. Barry Miller coordinated Junior high/Middle School curriculum in the Department of education for 10 years and then was superintendent of schools in the Fredericton area for 15 years.