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FEATURE: Ending Poverty

REGINA – Making the transition out of poverty is more difficult for some people than for others, in particular single parent families, recent immigrants, people with disabilities and First Nations and Métis.

Twenty-one year old Sheyenne Williams understands how difficult it can be. She moved from her home on her boyfriend’s reserve to Regina six months ago. Williams and her boyfriend both work full-time. They make enough to pay the rent, buy groceries and take their kids swimming once a month, but they can’t afford a cell phone plan – or daycare, so they work opposite shifts to take care of their two toddlers.

“It gets tiring, but you gotta do, what you gotta do,” she said.

Now Williams has another financial concern: she’s expecting their third child.

“That’s why I don’t want a phone or anything because I have to save money to buy stuff for the baby,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to go through these things.”

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In five years, Williams sees herself with a much different life: in university and owning her own vehicle, but she doesn’t have a plan yet of how to get there – and while she may face many obstacles, the biggest might be this: “I don’t really like asking for help too much,” she said.

The Regina Food Bank has recently seen an uptick in numbers of clientele. They currently serve around 9000 people a month – 50 per cent of them are children.

Now, a government-appointed advisory board is asking if there is a better way to help people out of poverty.

“$3.8 billion is lost to the Saskatchewan economy each year because of poverty,” said Dr. Ryan Meili, a member of the Advisory Board on Poverty Reduction.

He added, “Our current social assistance is built on this idea that if you give people less than what they need to get by then they’ll go and they’ll work and they’ll find a way to get the rest of it. Unfortunately, then, if they do that work, that money gets clawed back. It’s not a system that actually works. It’s a system that’s kind of designed to keep people in poverty.”

In August, the group released a list of recommendations for a provincial anti-poverty strategy in six key areas: income, education, child care, housing, health and food security.

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“It’s been talked about. Requests have been made for poverty reduction strategies. Some efforts have been made in that direction, but we were missing a strategy that really did what it needed to do,” said Ryan Meili.

“There’s so many things that have been going on across ministries and sometimes they don’t know about each other,” added Jo-Ann Episkenew, Indigenous People’s Health Research Centre director and another member of the advisory group.

“Childcare’s huge,” Meili said. “There are lots of people that would like to be working, but for lack of affordable child care, they’re not.”

Another recommendation is something called basic income security, which guarantees people earn a wage they can live on.

“We put it in there knowing that this would be something that could be controversial … on an ideological level. On a pragmatic level, there’s quite clear evidence that it works,” said Episkenew, adding the province could see better health and better education outcomes.

The group would like to see the idea piloted somewhere and evaluated, but it all depends, Episkenew said, the government embraces the idea or maintains “an ideological, ‘Darn it, those poor folks should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get to work'” attitude.

Watch the Focus Saskatchewan feature, Ending Poverty Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 pm on Global News.

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