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Poverty panel in Yellowknife

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 4, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The federal and territorial governments should invest in more roads, better airports as well as upgraded water and sewer systems to reduce poverty, said Mayor Gord Van Tighem, who was speaking to a national poverty study panel from Parliament on Wednesday.

"The transportation issues lower the cost of living," said Van Tighem.

"That helps to address poverty. The community infrastructure issues improve the quality of life, so that would be addressing it," he said.

"The flowing of funds is critical because we don't have a lot of people to raise a lot of revenue."

He added federal money allocated to aboriginal funding programs usually don't help the city much because those programs are largely geared towards reserves, which are largely absent in the NWT.

"More of a challenge is that (poverty is) not a city issue," he said. "Legislatively, it's territorial and federal, so we are facilitators. While we're the motivators and the supporters, the direct responsibility and the direct activation comes from the territorial government and federal programs."

The study panel heard from people from across the country in the last 18 months but issues related to transportation, unions and land claims were specific to the North, said Sault Ste. Marie NDP MP and poverty critic Tony Martin, whose motion in the House of Commons led to the study.

"The transportation was a huge issue, a huge challenge, both in terms of access to food, for example for the poor and the difficulty with transportation that drives the cost of food up. And food is a basic staple – you've got to have it," said Martin. "Even though land claims were settled (in the Yukon), some of the commitments that were made are not being lived up to, they're not being honoured. We find even with the land claims that our aboriginal people are some of the poorest citizens in the country."

The panel also heard from the Yellowknife YWCA that people are sleeping in shifts in homes because there isn't enough housing for families.

"All you need to do is to sit there and see the families come in and the distress that they have and the weeping and crying – nowhere to stay. They're sleeping on floors. Their children are living somewhere else. The family is divided – and they need a place to stay – and it's minus 40," said Kate Wilson, the director of emergency and transitional housing for the YWCA. "I was able to put a face, I think, on what's it is like to be poor in the North here."

The YWCA provides shelter to families fleeing abuse and people with mental or disability issues in addition to transitional housing to people in need. The YWCA has housed about 100 people in the past year, half of them children. A sense of urgency to tackle poverty is the message, she said.

Wilson said she hopes the federal and territorial governments will act on the report's recommendations once it's released.

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