Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boost welfare rates: activists

Shoe campaign raises awareness of poverty

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On the fourth day of Christmas, community activists gave the provincial government four pairs of shoes to protest Manitoba's low rental allowance.

The gift-givers, led by Make Poverty History Manitoba, left the shoes on the steps of the legislature for Premier Greg Selinger and Peter Bjornson, minister of entrepreneurship, training, and trade. The activists called on the province to raise the rental allowance for people who receive employment and income assistance.

Provincial rental-allowance increases have failed to keep up with rent hikes, which have gone up 60 to 70 per cent since 1992.

The shoe campaign was inspired by Kris Doubledee, the Winnipeg Transit bus driver who, on a cold fall morning, pulled over to give his shoes to a homeless man who was walking barefoot, said Kirsten Bernas, spokeswoman for Make Poverty History Manitoba.

"We wanted to celebrate that but also start asking questions that weren't asked at that time, like, why is it that we have people in Manitoba that can't afford shoes?" she said.

"We need to make sure that we do something that's going to have more of a long-term impact for people in Manitoba."

Each day since Christmas, participants in the campaign have left incremental amounts of shoes at the legislature building, in keeping with the Twelve Days of Christmas carol. Twelve city organizations are participating in the campaign, with a different representative dropping a set of shoes off at the legislature each day.

The larger goal of the campaign is to convince the provincial government to commit to an increase in rental allowances in the 2013 budget, explained Bernas.

Make Poverty History Manitoba is asking the provincial government to increase the allowances to 75 per cent of the median market rent.

Lynda Trono, community minister for the West Broadway Community Ministry, thought of the shoe campaign idea and took it to Make Poverty History Manitoba.

Among its activities, the West Broadway Community Ministry provides pastoral care, advocacy services and organizes lunches for low-income families.

One couple that Trono worked with had been evicted from their home and were forced to sleep in a bank machine room, she said.

She also recalled being deeply disturbed after seeing a man with a hospital tag still on his wrist at a city homeless shelter.

"I just thought, what kind of place do we live in where people get out of the hospital and have to recover in a homeless shelter?" she said.

"We wanted to recognize that acts like (Doubledee)'s are wonderful, but acts like that are not going to be enough to help the people I work with. What we need is government action."

Caryn Douglas, chairwoman of the board of United Nations Platform for Action Committee Manitoba (UNPAC), dropped four pairs of shoes off on the steps of the legislature on Friday. Douglas said addressing the need for safe, affordable housing is particularly important for women and their families as women are often less likely to seek emergency shelter, due to safety concerns.

"They're staying on couches, but they disappear from the statistics," she said.

A spokeswoman for Bjornson said the ministry is committed to helping low-income Manitobans get gainful employment and transition off assistance.

"That's why we're working with employers and community organizations to integrate our EIA and training programs to help more Manitobans build a better life for themselves," said Sally Housser, Bjornson's press secretary.

sarah.petz@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 B2

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