Dozens of pairs of shoes lined the steps of the legislature Friday to call on the government to raise rental allowances for people on welfare.
The event, organized by Make Poverty History Manitoba, was attended by about 150 to 200 people who crowded in chilly midday weather.
"People have to decide, 'Do I eat or do I pay the rent?' " said Marianne Cerilli, a program and policy analyst with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.
"The people are living in very over-crowded situations, or really substandard housing, because they can't afford the rent."
The coalition behind the rally is made up of more than 145 community organizations, said Kirsten Bernas, Make Poverty History's spokeswoman.
The shoe protest was inspired by Kris Doubledee, the Winnipeg Transit driver who stopped his bus and gave his shoes to a homeless man last year. His generous act made headlines in Canada and the United States.
The coalition is asking the province to raise the rental allowance to 75 per cent of median market rent rates to keep pace with what they say have been skyrocketing rental prices.
Kerri Irwin-Ross, Manitoba's minister of housing and community development, said since 1999 there have been "major investments" to reduce poverty, including increasing benefits and stopping a clawback of the national child tax benefit.
"I'm not going to tell you that our work is done. We know that there are many Manitobans still living in poverty and we need to continue to address those issues. We know the best way out of poverty is through employment and education," Irwin-Ross said.
According to the Manitoba Family Services and Labour website, single parents with one child getting income assistance receive anywhere from $700 to $1,256 per month.
That amount is based on both provincial and federal benefits.
A single person between 18 and 65 without children gets $587 per month, according to the website.
That total increases to $1,712 to $1,762 for single parents with two children.
The person receiving the benefits chooses how to spend the money on things such as clothing, food and rent.
Deanna Ng, who was at the rally on behalf of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities, said she had relied on the Employment and Income Assistance rental allowance in the past. The 28-year-old woman, who is legally blind, had to use food banks in the past to make ends meet.
"I soon got a job... so I was lucky. A lot of people don't get as many opportunities and it's very unfortunate for a lot of people," said Ng.
Derek Legge attended the rally because the amount of money welfare recipients get for housing costs is "sadly low," he said.
"I see around my neighbourhood in St. James more and more of the lower-rent buildings going condo, taking those units off the market," he said. "I'm not relying on the system, I'm just looking at it and realizing that there's a lot of people out there scrambling to find some reasonable, safe housing."