More meals for kids but poverty persists

12th and Cambie

 

Ah what the heck, let’s begin with a quote from Mayor Gregor Robertson.

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No, it’s not about climate change or bike lanes.

It has to do with an issue more troubling for many residents.

“There is no reason that in a city as compassionate and prosperous as Vancouver that any child should be going to school hungry.”

The mayor provided that quote in a news release issued Dec. 3 by the city’s communications crew. His words sounded familiar. That’s because he uttered almost the identical quote during his re-election campaign last fall.

“There is no reason why in a city as compassionate and prosperous as Vancouver that every kid shouldn’t have a good start to the day and a warm meal,” he said Sept. 18, 2014 on a sidewalk outside Strathcona community centre on Keefer Street.

The mayor was in Strathcona that day – which also happened to be his birthday – to announce that his Vision team promised to spend $400,000 to double the amount of money dedicated to the Vancouver School Board’s breakfast program.

At the time, the budget for the program was $200,000, all of it raised through charitable donations. It was enough money to pay for breakfast every morning for 650 students at 12 elementary schools.

Beginning this month, the city is contributing $320,000 annually towards the school board’s meal program and adding another $80,000 for Strathcona community centre association’s breakfast program.

So, yep, that’s $400,000, just like the mayor promised.

It means 258 more hungry kids in 11 elementary schools will get lunches. The money also gives the Strathcona program some stability and allows organizers to possibly open up some childcare spaces for low-income families.

But as the mayor knows, and as Premier Christy Clark knows -- and as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knows -- $400,000 is really a drop in the bucket when it comes to addressing child poverty.

The stats don’t lie: An average of 22 per cent of children in Vancouver live in low-income families. That percentage reaches 70 per cent in Strathcona.

In a world where news posted this morning is digital fish wrap by the afternoon, I thought it would be helpful to remind readers that the First Call child and youth advocacy coalition released its 2015 child poverty report card in November.

Some of their findings:

·       One in five children in B.C. are growing up in poverty.

·       B.C.’s child poverty rate continues to exceed the Canadian average.

·       A “shocking” 50 percent of children living in single-parent families are poor.

Why is this happening in such a “compassionate and prosperous” city?

I began this piece with a quote from the mayor. So let me end it with this one from the author of First Call’s report, who has an answer to that question.

“Stubbornly high child and family poverty rates are a result of growing income inequality in B.C. and across Canada. They reflect the failure of employers, both public and private, to create decent full-time jobs with wages and benefits that enable parents to lift their families out of poverty. They reflect the choice by our federal and provincial governments to apply the squeeze of austerity to our public institutions and social safety net, while allowing and facilitating the massive accumulation of wealth in very few hands.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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