Sofia, Bulgaria - January 8, 2016: A homeless man is sitting and sleeping on a bench in a park in Bulgaria's capital Sofia. Years after joining the EU the country is still struggling with great poverty among its citizens.

When it comes to ending poverty in Canada, here’s one way to make a difference

Ending poverty in Canada – just thinking of it can be overwhelming. Where do you start to find solutions to the range of problems that need to be addressed? It’s not easy. There are economic, social, and, of course, policy considerations.

But when you think about the people living each day weighed down by the burden of poverty, it becomes clear. Start doing justice.

As people of faith, aren’t we compelled to “undo the heavy burdens,” to “let the oppressed go free,” and to “bring good news to the poor”?

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) recently held meetings about engaging faith communities in the federal poverty reduction strategy consultations taking place now. At one of the meetings, a guest panelist, Andrea Auger, said it plainly. She works with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, an organization well known for it’s incredible director, Cindy Blackstock, and for it’s tenacity in pushing the federal government to end discrimination against Indigenous children in Canada.

She shared her frustration about people saying poverty is complex. “It is complex, of course, but this idea can slow us down from acting for change.”

When it comes to poverty eradication, you want to get it right. You want the best research to ground your recommendations. You want to understand the many layers of what poverty is and what the most effective policy response could be.

And poverty is complex. It doesn’t have one cause or require one basic response.

Poverty isn’t just about a lack of income or basic necessities. It also involves social isolation, and an erosion of a sense of dignity and spiritual vitality. “It wears you down,” as I’ve heard a family member say, struggling to get by day after day.

As well, poverty doesn’t just involve individual life choices or circumstances, but also structures, systems, and institutions, which can be shaped by bias, racism, and privilege. This makes the way harder for some than for others. Many Indigenous peoples, refugees, single moms, and people with disabilities know this very well.

We want people to understand this complexity. But, we also want people to act!

And acting is not just a matter of understanding, but also a matter of caring – of creating a “caring society.”

CPJ’s public justice work is rooted in the recognition that we are all created in the image of God and worthy of dignity. It recognizes that loving our neighbours applies to our public lives.

We have worked for years to push the federal government to create a national anti-poverty plan – one that is comprehensive, accountable, and rooted in the dignity of all people. As co-leaders of the Dignity for All campaign, we created a model of what this could look like, and advocated strongly for action.

Now, it’s happening. The federal government is developing a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. However, this doesn’t mean our work is over. We have to make sure this strategy is strong and effective.

So, we want people to act! CPJ has developed an online form that anyone can simply sign, or add comments about what should be in a national strategy. The submissions will go directly to the federal government as part of its consultation process, which end on June 30th.

This action is small, but it matters. It is an opportunity for everyone to give voice to the commitment to help those struggling every day under the burden of poverty – millions of people in Canada.

A strong and effective strategy will take effort to develop, implement, and assess. But it’s a matter of making lives better so that people can live with dignity. We care enough to make that happen, right?

It’s complex, but really, it’s simple.

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About the author

Darlene O’Leary is the Socio-economic Policy Analyst with Citizens for Public Justice. She has a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from Saint Paul University. Darlene served as the Executive Director of Galilee Centre, an Oblate retreat centre. She has taught undergraduate courses in ethics, theology, and global issues and was a post-doctoral fellow in UPEI’s Faculty of Education, guided by the amazing Inuit women in the Masters in Education (Nunavut) program. She currently lives in Ottawa with her husband, Digafie.