Debbie Sherwin was one of three guest speakers at the Canadian Federation of University Women Haliburton Highlands' final meeting of the year. The June 7 talk focused on poverty in Haliburton County. /OLIVIA ROBINSON

Confronting perceptions of poverty in Haliburton County

By Olivia Robinson
Published June 19 2018

The Canadian Federation of University Women hosted a presentation and roundtable discussion asking attendees to imagine what it’s like to live in poverty in Haliburton County. Initially some had difficulty imagining what that reality would look like – and that’s the point.

The June 7 presentation was aimed at explaining Bridges Out of Poverty a model that looks at how to educate particularly the middle-class about the realities of poverty and the barriers preventing those from overcoming it.

“We start to really understand what the causes of poverty are and the hidden rules that happen in economic classes” said Debbie Sherwin. Sherwin is a recently retired massage therapist who has become involved in the Bridges Out of Poverty model.

“When we develop locally-based and community-specific strategies we end up improving relationships across all classes and the outcomes at an institutional level” she said.

Along with Marg Cox executive director of Point in Time and Cathy Constantino part of the early intervention team at Point in Time the trio discussed the root causes of poverty and how poverty manifests itself in Haliburton County.

On average in the county incomes are lower and unemployment rates are higher compared to the rest of Ontario this according to research compiled by the presenters. The City of Kawartha Lakes Housing Help Centre reported in 2016 that people are waiting three to five years for subsidized housing. Since 2013 that wait list has tripled.

One of the complications with dealing with poverty is that people tend to view poverty through the socio-economic lens in which they were raised said Sherwin. For example many in the middle class may be under the assumption that poverty occurs when money is just tight like when buying a house losing a job getting sick or a divorce – but these temporary bumps in the road are navigable for those in higher socio-economic classes.

But for those actually experiencing poverty it’s not that simple.

Generational poverty is a cycle of poverty defined as when one person’s family has been in poverty for two or more generations and is far more difficult to overcome said Sherwin.

For young people it can be even more complicated. There are some unique challenges associated with young people struggling with poverty locally. Cox outlined that young people in Haliburton County especially struggle with transportation or not having enough money to be able to hang out in a restaurant and kill time before or after school.

According to Statistics Canada data from 2016 23 per cent of children and teens up to the age of 17 live in low-income households compared to the province-wide rate of 18 per cent.

For many the toll of poverty can be emotional and physical. For those in poverty it is fraught with loneliness.

“When you’re in that state of chronic stress it wears your immune system down and your whole body” Sherwin said of people experiencing poverty. “It’s difficult to maintain relationships to create that community.”

To learn more about the Bridges Out of Poverty model Kawartha North FHT is offering a free workshop in Bobcaygeon on July 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The group is also hoping to hold a full-day workshop in Haliburton sometime this fall.

For more information or to register contact