Advocates paint uncomfortable portrait of poverty in Nova Scotia

·3 min read

Some Nova Scotians living in poverty are resorting to desperate measures to provide for their families, in some cases feeling obligated to perform sexual favours to make ends meet, a legislative committee heard Tuesday.

JoAnna LaTulippe-Rochon, executive director of the Cape Breton Family Resource Centre, said it's a stark reality for some Nova Scotians, despite efforts by the government to address poverty rates in the province.

"We hear multiple participants reporting that, in fact, they feel forced to perform sexual favours to pay for trips to the grocery store or to get their children to medical appointments," LaTulippe-Rochon told members of the standing committee on community services.

At least one in four children is living in poverty in Nova Scotia. The situation is worse on Cape Breton Island.

LaTulippe-Rochon said a lack of public transit and affordable alternatives has left some people who are struggling to care for their families feel as though trading sex is their only option.

"That is something we've been told on more than one occasion. So while it's not every second person that's doing that for sure, certainly there are too many situations where transportation has become so far out of reach for families, that people find themselves in a situation of feeling that that is their only route to meeting some of the very basic needs that their families have," she said.

"That's not a comfortable story to share. But it's an honest story and it is happening."

Her comments came toward the end of a two-hour meeting where the deputy minister of the Department of Community Services defended her department's efforts to eradicate poverty in the province.

CBC News
CBC News

Poverty 'steadily coming down'

Tracey Taweel told the committee that child poverty sits at about 24 per cent in Nova Scotia. In Cape Breton, that rate goes up by nearly 10 per cent.

"It is a heartbreaking reality and there are no simple solutions or quick fixes," said Taweel. "Child poverty is a complex issue and is frequently intergenerational and systemic, and is often rooted in trauma, racism, mental health issues and addictions.

"I'm here today to assure you that my department is fully committed to this work."

Taweel told CBC News that actions taken by the province and the federal government in recent years, including the tax-free Canada Child Benefit, are having a positive impact on families living in poverty.

CBC
CBC

"Rates of poverty are slowly and steadily coming down," she said. "They are still too high, there is no question about that, and we are all committed to trying to bring those rates down and to ultimately eliminate poverty."

'Huge disconnect'

LaTulippe-Rochon acknowledged there are good people trying to do the right thing within the government. But she said that work is not significantly helping those struggling to make ends meet, particularly on Cape Breton Island.

"There is just a huge disconnect that I'm feeling quite heavily between what we think we're doing, what we're intending to do, and what the actual impact on the ground is," she said.

At the Jane Paul Indigenous Resource Centre in Sydney, executive director Karen Bernard said clients tell her they do whatever is necessary to survive.

"Sometimes that sexual favour gets them those things that they do require in life to move on in regards to eating, surviving, transportation or whatever that entails," said Bernard.

Christine Porter, executive director of the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, said the exchange of sex for life's necessities isn't new, but it needs to be addressed.

"It's been ongoing for quite some time," she said. "We need guaranteed income supplement for folks here.

"If you have to exchange sexual favours to pay your rent, or to buy a loaf of bread, or whatever — it's poverty. We live in poverty. "

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