Child poverty is playing with the other kids you meet at the food bank. It is haircuts with the kitchen scissors. It is hand-me-downs that don’t fit and that other kids tease you for. It is being embarrassed at lunchtime when you have a smaller lunch than the other kids or no lunch at all. It is being hungry after eating at home because food has to stretch to next pay day. Child poverty is moving, often and frequently, due to unsuitable conditions or inability to pay the rent. Child poverty is always being the new kid. Child poverty is feeling like everything you have is temporary, no person or object can ever truly stay.
But I can only share my story, and in 2017 there were 85,450 more kids in Manitoba facing this reality.
I often wonder what my life as a resident of the inner city, an Indigenous male and a product of the child welfare system would be like if I didn’t have to live in poverty. In Point Douglas, 20% of us experience poverty.[i] When it comes to the child welfare system, 90% of the kids in state care are Indigenous. That is a direct result of 35% of Indigenous people in Manitoba living in poverty.[ii] The 2018 Winnipeg Street Census interviewed 1,519 people experiencing homelessness. Of that number 65% were Indigenous and 51% had spent time in state care.[iii] The cycle is obvious.
Despite the fact that I moved 13 times by the time I was in grade 8, I was successful academically, unlike other kids in areas with concentrated poverty. I was involved in a lot of community activities and as such didn’t have time to get into trouble. However, we know that 60% of the kids who live in poverty are also justice-involved.[iv] I know too many who got involved with the legal system as kids and have never made it out. To quote the well known advocate and many Indigenous kids’ honourary Aunty, Cindy Blackstock: “No child should ever have to recover from their childhood”.
I was 2 when all the Ottawa decision makers said they would end this situation by the year 2000. I was 13 then. I can only imagine what my teenage years could have been like with more stability and a full belly. I imagine what it would be like for the families I work with and love dearly as my own relatives today. What if we didn’t have to turn to crime, addiction or violence to have our basic needs met, or to numb ourselves from not being able to meet them? What would our world look like?
Child poverty was also not having enough and still watching my family welcome others that had even less to our kitchen table. It is their example that inspired me to work with others to found a volunteer youth movement that aims to create mino bimadisiwin (Ininew – the good life). We create family for our peers because the systems that are supposed to help, more often than not, cause harm. Child poverty has meant becoming intimately familiar with these systems even while they constantly change structurally and change direction politically. And knowing too many can’t navigate them. When we have outcomes that tell us a child born in Point Douglas will live 18 years less than a child living in Tuxedo, then it is clear to me that we must all take action.[v] We can no longer accept words without action or initiatives without clear measurement.
Manitoba’s relative ranking in poverty and child poverty, even using the government’s own measure, is worsening. We were 4th in both categories of overall poverty and child poverty in 2016. In 2018, there was a 7% increase in overall poverty and 19% increase in child poverty. Campaign 2000 was formed to monitor and report back on the unanimous House of Commons motion to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. Here we are 30 years later and 20 years late.
This originally appeared as the introduction in the Campaign 2000 Manitoba Report Card on Child and Family Poverty released April 8, 2020. Thank you to my fellow report contributors for helping with editing and ensuring the data I reference is correct. Read the whole report by clicking here.