Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon, members of the committee.
I'm a member of the board and volunteer director of operations of the Karing Kitchen, in downtown Moncton. I have been a volunteer in the city for 50 years for several non-profit organizations. My passion has mainly been directed towards the poor and the vulnerable in our communities.
A United Church minister and I met back in 1985 to discuss the need to feed the homeless, seniors, children, people on social assistance, and the disabled. We formed a board of directors and opened a soup kitchen in the basement of St. John's United Church. It was open five days per week. We hired a cook and the churches agreed to send volunteers to help us every day.
In the first years of operation, we served between 50 and 75 meals each day, mainly soup and sandwiches. We soon discovered that for many, this lunch was the only meal of the day, so we began serving a full dinner every day. Today, we average 400 meals per day. We have one cook, a manager, and some volunteers, mostly seniors.
In the summer, we have been fortunate to be able to apply for four students to replace the seniors, who move out to the shore. Now we are losing one of our student positions. Our numbers increase in the summer months because we see more transients and schoolchildren, so not having these students puts a lot of pressure on our staff.
You ask how we measure poverty. We measure by the number of meals we serve and the clients who form a line all around our social hall, waiting for their meal at 11 a.m. every day. Some of these clients have been coming to our kitchen since the day we opened our doors 24 years ago. We are the only family they are connected to. We treat them with respect and provide a warm greeting and a listening ear.
Recently, we have seen an increase in clients, with some of them returning home from Alberta, where their employment opportunities ended. We are unable to keep statistics due to a shortage of staff. We are unable to hire anyone due to a shortage of finances.
I applaud the federal government for implementing some programs over the years that have helped us to look after our clients. In the year 2001, we received a grant from Human Resources Development Canada under the homelessness file to refurbish our kitchen in order to better serve our clients. Harvest House, a transition residence, and the Moncton YMCA ReConnect program for homeless people and youth at risk of becoming homeless also received funding that year.
This past year, Mrs. Claudette Bradshaw has been establishing her office for work on a research project on homelessness and mental health. We feel strongly that this program is exactly what is needed by some of our clients suffering with mental health issues. They need someone who cares and understands what these individuals are experiencing every day.
However, I am very concerned about what is happening in our growing city. It is my understanding that funding for Harvest House and the YMCA ReConnect program has been discontinued and they face the possibility of closure. These two important organizations help a lot of our clients.
The Karing Kitchen is in the basement of a church. We pay a small rent of only $360 per month, which barely covers the power and heat that we use. We had two small bathrooms. They were outdated and did not meet the standards for the disabled. Therefore, we had to add new bathroom facilities this past year due to the high volume of clients we see every day. We have applied to the federal and provincial governments for help with this $50,000 renovation. So far, we have not been successful.
The only funding we receive each year is $18,000 from the provincial government and $5,000 from the municipal government. We must rely on the community every year to raise the funds needed to keep operating.
We were the first soup kitchen to open in Moncton in 1985. In the Greater Moncton Area, we now have two kitchens, a mobile bus, and 23 food banks all competing for the same dollars. We need financial help and we have not been successful with the federal or provincial governments.
I am certainly not qualified to give you advice on how the government can reduce poverty. I can only relate to you some of our success stories that we have experienced over the years. They all come down to the fact that we cared for these people when they were without work. We fed them and encouraged them and, eventually, some of them found work. The rewarding part happens when they return with a cheque to express their thanks our help at a low period in their lives.
One particular story that touches our hearts is an individual who came to the kitchen every day for 10 years. He helped us carry heavy boxes, cleaned the floors, and would gladly do anything we asked of him. He couldn't find work because he couldn't read or write to fill out the forms. However, we nominated him for volunteer of the year with the City of Moncton. He was chosen and, shortly afterwards, because of the exposure he was given, someone gave him a job. Again, this has done so much for his self-esteem that he no longer has to rely on social assistance.
This is only one of the many success stories we have experienced at the kitchen over the years. It may seem small, but we feel that this part of the program works best for us: treating them with dignity, plus boosting their self-esteem.
One of the major complaints we hear at the kitchen from clients is that they can't reach their social workers. I really think the province needs more social workers and more mental health doctors. This is where the ReConnect program helps a lot of individuals find the help they need.
We see more and more young people on drugs, and also an increase in break-ins, which we feel are related to the drug scene.
I have read the 2009-10 budget of the Government of Canada, and I see millions of dollars being allocated for social housing, the working income tax benefit, and the EI benefit. All of that is positive, but when it comes to the food banks, I see the establishment of another independent task force. Unfortunately, that will not help us at the present time. When Minister Bradshaw held the homelessness portfolio, we were told there were millions left to help us, but when we try to obtain the funds, we are told that none are available.
You ask if current federal resources for reducing poverty can be deployed more effectively.I say yes. When an organization such as Karing Kitchen is trying to help some of these individuals stand on their own two feet, we need the help of the federal or provincial government. We feel that the community just can't help any more than it does at present. Therefore, if we don't receive any help from the government, we will be forced to close our doors. What will happen then to these vulnerable members of our society?
I thank you for the opportunity to express our concerns to your committee. I wish you much success with your meeting.