Taking Action to Break the Poverty Cycle in Hamilton

We need Mohawk, and especially McMaster, to move into our neighbourhoods and build the dream of higher education in all our communities.

By Joey Coleman
Published July 14, 2011

The McGuinty government declared addressing poverty as one of the top priorities of their second term with a goal of reducing child poverty by 25%. Numbers compiled from StatsCan by Ontario's Social Planning Network shows that poverty is actually increasing. What can we do? Is there a macro solution to poverty that we are missing?

There isn't a magic bullet, but we are moving in the right direction. The investments made last decade in early learning are starting to produce results in our most poverty-stricken neighbourhoods.

In one of my old neighbourhoods, Crown Point, home to the Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, the Queen Mary Public School grade 3 classes are showing encouraging and substantial improvements in numeracy and literacy as measured by EQAO scores.

In 2005/06, only 21% of Queen Mary's grade 3 students wrote at or above the province standard for their age. The provincial average at the time was 64%. In 2009/10, 73% of the grade 3 students met or exceed the standard. The provincial average was 70%.

Literacy is important for being able to overcome poverty, but what happens to these children when they reach high school and start to consider post-secondary education? Are we doing enough as a community to promote and assist in the obtainment of post-secondary education for our most disadvantaged citizens?

We can do more. We need to create the atmosphere for success.

I attended the University of Manitoba for my first year of university. On my first day in Winnipeg, I travelled to the Winnipeg Boys and Girls Club to volunteer. The Boys and Girls Club in Hamilton is the primary reason for my success and the Winnipeg Club continued the Club's support for me.

I've grown up in Hamilton's poorest neighbourhoods. Near Christmas of 2004, I was volunteering at a small Boys and Girls Club in North Winnipeg. The poverty in this neighbourhood shocked even me - how could we as a country allowed for this? I could not help but notice the majority of people in the neighbourhood were First Nations.

As I was building relationships with the members of this club, a young boy of no more than seven or eight years of age started asking me why I was in Winnipeg. He had a torn shirt and shoes with holes that could barely protect against the summer elements, let alone a Winnipeg winter.

Much like any child in a poor neighbourhood, he knew I was an outsider. I tried to avoid telling him I was attending the university. Eventually, he cornered me. I had to tell him, "I go to the University of Manitoba."

His reaction shocked me: "That's awesome, my cousin goes there. I'm going to go to the University of Winnipeg because that's where my uncle goes." A child in my neighbourhood back home wouldn't dream of a university education.

Growing up, no one around me was attending McMaster University. A few people went to Mohawk. There was no chance that a child in my neighbourhood would dream of - let alone plan - to attend McMaster.

However, both universities in Winnipeg offer extensive outreach programs in Winnipeg's poverty-stricken North End and for first-generation students on their campuses.

In Hamilton we're making strides with our younger children. Now we need Mohawk, and especially McMaster, to move into our neighbourhoods and build the dream of higher education in all our communities.

McMaster's president, Patrick Deane, served as Provost of the University of Winnipeg. He knows the positive impact that University is having in overcoming poverty in Winnipeg. I'm hopeful that he'll bring the best practices of how a university can address poverty to Hamilton.

A child born in Hamilton's wealthier suburbs is nearly guaranteed to attend post-secondary education, most likely university. Why? They have the supports to succeed. They have the financial resources to focus on studying and have the mentorship (their parents who attended university) to deal with the challenges of university.

A first-generation student rarely enjoys a mentor. For them, the adjustment to university is greater as they attempt to integrate into a foreign culture.

I challenge Hamilton's professional community to make a commitment of both their financial resources and their personal time to helping young people out of poverty. Be that mentor.

Hire a high school student from one of our "Code Red" neighbourhoods for administrative work during the summer. Be the person they can call in their senior year for homework assistance. Hire them back in subsequent summers. Fund a bursary to assist them in paying for residence during first year.

Let's produce a generation of young professionals who seed future leaders from our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

We cannot afford to squander the modest - and still inadequate - investment in early years made last decade. It's time to step up to the plate.

This article was previously published on Joey Colemans' website, and was originally published in Urbanicity.

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.


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By MikeBelmore (registered) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:43:45

Great post Joey.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2011 at 00:15:03 in reply to Comment 66147

Thank you.

I often think of that young boy in Winnipeg when I'm volunteering here in Hamilton.

We, in Ontario, focus on the fact that Winnipeg now has an NHL team again. I focus on the fact they are aggressively doing something to address their poverty issues.

It is this action on poverty that will put Winnipeg ahead of us in the next few decades.

We need action and it's not going to come from our chattering classes - we need to step up ourselves.

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By RichardDenOtter (registered) - website | Posted July 14, 2011 at 10:46:41

There are a lot of opportunities for young people to receive education right now. But the cycle of poverty is really tough to break. It is illustrated in the 2009 film "Precious".

The burden of student loans, as well as lack of employment opportunities for university graduates only exacerbate the problem.

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By Mark-Alan Whittle (anonymous) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:22:17

My parents couldn't afford to send me to College or University either, so I took my natural skill of being able to use my hands and the love of cars to become an Apprentice Mechanic after high school, attended Mohawk College to learn the craft, while continuing to work full time, where I excelled, made the Deans List and Honor Roll. After four years of hard work I became a Class "A" Licensed Mechanic. After 35 years in the trade, with a contiguous record of employment, I was able to afford to retire early at 50 and take life easy. During that time I also trained a number of Apprentices, who also had no problem making a nice living fixing cars. Today, mechanics are like rocket scientists or computer diagnostic experts, they get paid accordingly. The best way out of poverty is an education and a job, the rest will follow.

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By Mark-Alan Whittle (anonymous) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:46:21

For once, we can agree on something Ryan. The skilled trades may no be very romantic, but they pay a darn good living wage. When I was an Aprentice in College, we even had a few girls taking part. I also recall a trade school called Crestwood, where many bricklayers where trained, and got jobs as a result. Fast forward to today, the board wants to demolish the school to build a brand new education centre. Removing this, and other training components from public schools was a tragic mistake, given todays unfilled demands for these skilled workers. Unfortunately, there's no home-grown talent to fill them.

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By Cat (anonymous) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:07:52

Hamilton needs mentors to go to the schools and plant a seed of desire to get into school and stay in desptie thier surroundings. I have seen it happen and it can happen in Hamilton.

If kid's see nothing but thier family and friend's and welfare and no outside world they often will stay in thier comfort zone. Time for a paradigm shift! Mac students can come and mentor,ditto for Mohawk. Make it mandatory to graduate to come and be a mentor.

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By RB (registered) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 14:07:39 in reply to Comment 66156

Hmmm... I agree that some kind of mentor ship/early involvement would be a good thing to break this deadly "generational welfare" that runs rampant in Hamilton.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 18:08:42 in reply to Comment 66163

I agree. Mentorship programs would be great for a couple of reasons. The ability for children to aspire to higher goals requires that they see these people working in their neighbourhoods. Also, the post secondary system is under considerable financial strain. In order to meet future needs of students entering the system they are going to need innovative ways to educate students outside of traditional classroom pen & paper methods.

Trades still have somewhat of a negative stigma from my experience with students and parents in the public education system. It is not entirely clear why, since many of my parents' neigbours in S. Creek became millionaires through hard work in trades/business.

There are some cultural factors at play. Newer immigrants believe that University is the only way to improve their lot in the new country, and I have observed some interesting correlations with background and career goals. Older generation families also tend to be one tracked, and have bought into the American culture of dream jobs in medicine, law, and business. Very few students actually declare interest in the trades at the high school level from my experience.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2011 at 00:20:06 in reply to Comment 66163

I've been fortuante that I was exposed to areas outside of my Hamilton Housing survey when I was a child. I don't know of any of my childhood friend who've broken the cycle. In my volunteer work, I often work to assist their children.

The Early Years Centres are making a difference - they are giving these children the skills they'll need to break the cycle and many of the parents want their children to be able to break the cycle. The question is what are we going to do to help these, often single parents, to guide their children through the teenage years?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 14:07:58

If you liked this article, also see Mahesh Butani's blog entry "McMaster could be a real city University."

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 14:20:03

Great article, Joey. Top shelf, all 'round!

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2011 at 00:22:26 in reply to Comment 66167

Thank you

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By what is the truth (anonymous) | Posted July 14, 2011 at 17:00:43

Getting a post secondary education does not necessarily mean you will be lifted from poverty.

I think the writer while well intentined, misses a view points. Not everyperson is geared to go towards post secondary education for a variety of reasons and, his comment about the kidds at the school while optimistic does nothing in reality if their parents are living in dire poverty. They do not get more money.

So is it going to be 25 and 25 before something ias done about the growing levels of poverty?

Lots of yakking and reports but no real action!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 14, 2011 at 18:12:01 in reply to Comment 66180

So true, many, if not most that I know who went to university are now deeply indebted and still unemployed. The massive rise in university attendance over the last few decades clearly hasn't provided "opportunities" for all the graduates - in many cases it's actually devalued degrees.

One way or the other, a massive bulk of jobs (often a sizable majority) will still be "unskilled". Professionals still need toilets cleaned, dishes washed and floors swept - and if these jobs don't pay living wages, then a very large amount of the population will still be poor no matter how hard they work. Even if every poor person in Hamilton right now were given an MBA and $100K/year jobs, we'd just need to import more poor people (immigrants, rural populations etc) to do their former jobs.

We can't address the problems of poverty by helping a few determined young people "escape". As long as our economy depends on a large and underpaid working class (or lower grades of it), people will live in poverty. The roots of this issue go very deep...

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 15, 2011 at 13:23:49 in reply to Comment 66183

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By JoeP (anonymous) | Posted July 15, 2011 at 09:31:08

Hmmm... no one has mentioned the increase in minimum wage and how that increases poverty?

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By JoeP (anonymous) | Posted July 15, 2011 at 11:49:06 in reply to Comment 66207

I see that I've been negatively rated here without rebuttal.

I'll let Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams help explain what the minimum wage does to the poor:

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 15, 2011 at 09:34:29

While I applaud this articles focus on education and the discussions focus on skilled trades. Poverty as we see it today is a product of capitalism and our monetary policy. If we do not address these fundamental problems, anything we do about poverty is a band aid on a gaping wound.

"Affluence creates poverty" - Marshall McLuhan

"Wealth creates poverty" - Michael Parenti

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2011 at 10:03:19 in reply to Comment 66208

I agree. Although I have to say that having spent part of this year in the US, in the middle of all 'that', the one thing I took away from the sizeable amount of reading and observing I indulged myself with... how almost resistent the society is to a) developing an understanding of the basic precepts of their system, and b) how the decimation of the Middle Class isn't being protested as, say, wars have been.

I fear that the motivation just isn't there and inertia will prove to be the deciding factor as to whether or not 'triage' is performed. (I"m purposefully leaving out the various elements of complicity of those who have either engineered this dynamic or promulgated it, because in the end, it always comes down to the degree of apathy present in the populace. And the variety of apathy rampant in the US is super-fuelled.)

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted July 15, 2011 at 09:54:58

Nice job, Joey. Growing up in Ottawa's suburbs, all we ever heard was "Learn French so you can get a job with the government,Learn French so you can get a job with the government,Learn French so you can get a job with the government." Almost everyone I ever knew has done that and is dying slowly. Mark-Allan, my father panicked and got angry when I said I wanted to become an auto mechanic. I wish I had gone ahead anyway. I'd be better off and less useless.

I tell my girls to learn a trade.

BTW, standarised test scoring (EQOA) is an expensive waste of money that steals money from children and lines the pockets of conservatives. It is the work of the devil. The money should go to classrooms.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2011 at 15:09:01 in reply to Comment 66218

Google Lorna Earl to get really disgusted with EQAOs.

One of the people in charge of the process was also working as a private consultant for schools looking to push up their EQAO scores.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 16:26:23

Would that Hamilton's political and business leaders never missed an opportunity to adopt best practices that are both ethically unimpeachable and strategically sound. Post-secondary institutions in this city have demonstrated little appetite for community praxis, preferring the spongy hinterlands of urban theory -- and of course a never-ending supply of public funding. We reward them for thinking inside the box and should not be shocked when they do so.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2011 at 15:29:27

Being a beneficiary of the post secondary system, it's hard to diss it. Being a likely payor in the next few years for the next generation, all the great discussion above makes for an unhappy prospect. My own investigations ended up zeroing in on OSAP as a crux of the matter in foisting burdensome debts on gullible young people who mainly want to stay/keep up with their classmates and aren't really thinking yet. Peer pressure and the buzz outweighs parental and logical guidance of the sort given above.

I believe we have gone off the rails and the next generation will pay dearly. In many ways, on many topics I think we have to go backwards in order to go forward like the old saying one step back, two steps forward. This might involve a crash of the system where all sorts of things get jettisoned, frivolous and essential alike, but allowing the essential to recover faster/better and the frivolous to be mercifully forgotten.

Education is a wonderful thing but the education industry has become a self justifying sacred cow, an expensive one that ties up young people in their most energetic years. We need to ask fundamental questions as to why the situation has developed this way, especially as the jobs they train people for are being sucked overseas as fast as corporations can figure a way to tap into lower wages and taxes. Meanwhile, apathy, entertainments and the great media bamboozle continues apace, thwarting any attempt at needed reform. We have an election coming up, education is mostly a provincial issue - can we put this on the agenda?

Comment edited by BobInnes on 2011-07-17 15:30:11

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By Siddhartha (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 13:56:32

As you know most of the communities (Bengali or Tamils) in this sub-continent are infected by 'Culture of Poverty(hopelessness)' syndrome, irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is seriously ashamed of or regret the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-Governance, bad work place, weak mother language, filth, continuous consumption of common social space (mental as well as physical, both). Do not ever look for any other positive alternative gesture/values to perform a real way of parenthood - deliberately stop giving birth to any child him/herself till the entire society improves up to the mark, co-parenting children those are born out of extreme poverty, instead. We are becoming parents only by self-procreation - mindlessly, blindfold (supported by some lame excuses), depriving the children's fundamental rights(of a decent & caring society, fearless & dignified living). We are being driven by the very animal instinct, pushing persons for a nasty living, indulging the entire community to go perish. If the Bengali people ever opt for a freedom from vicious cycle of poverty, need to involve in Production of Space(Henri Lefebvre), form a positive sentiment to overcome the inherent ‘hopeless’ mindset, definite application of human dignity, decent & fair Politics would certainly come up. – S. Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah -711101, India.

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